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September 20, 2017

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US, China spar over North Korea, South China Sea

BEIJING -- The United States and mainland China sparred Wednesday on how to deal with North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test and ease rising tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

After meeting for more than four hours in Beijing in what they both termed "constructive" and "candid" discussions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi nonetheless presented sharply opposing positions on the two issues at a news conference.

Kerry acknowledged that "our differences will continue to test us" but stressed that the world benefits when the United States and China are able to work together, including on the Iran nuclear deal and climate change.

Kerry also called on China to halt land reclamation and construction of airstrips in disputed areas of the South China Sea, steps that have alarmed its smaller neighbors.

"I stressed the importance of finding common ground among the claimants and avoiding the destabilizing cycle of mistrust or escalation," Kerry said.

Wang, though denied that China has was doing anything other than protecting its territorial sovereignty. And, he rejected accusations from the United States and others that China was not interested in peaceful resolutions to the disputes or militarizing the areas. "We cannot accept the allegation that China's words are not being matched by actions."

Kerry arrived in China from stops in Laos and Cambodia, where he called on the two members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to present a united front in dealing with increasing Chinese assertiveness over the South China Sea claims. His visits to Vientiane and Phnom Penh come ahead of a summit with the leaders of all 10 ASEAN nations that President Barack Obama will host next month in California.

The U.S. says it takes no position on the claims but says developments in the South China Sea are a national security interest. It has urged that the disputes be settled peacefully and that a binding code of conduct be established for the area.

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