China rejects the U.S. Senate's criticism over its sea dispute in Spratlys with Vietnam & Philippines

U.S. Senate resolution critical of Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea “doesn’t hold water” and its sponsors should promote peace in other ways, China said Tuesday.

Disputes over the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully through talks between “directly concerned parties,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters, a reference to what Beijing considers to be meddling by Washington.

The resolution adopted Monday by the U.S. Senate deplored China’s “use of force” in recent incidents between Chinese vessels and those of other claimants in the potentially resource-rich waters.

The Philippines accuses Chinese vessels of intruding repeatedly into Philippine waters in recent months, while Vietnam says Chinese vessels have hindered its oil exploration surveys in an area 200 nautical miles off its central coast that it claims as its economic exclusive zone. China says it has sovereign rights over the South China Sea.

“The relevant resolution adopted by the U.S. Senate doesn’t hold water,” Hong said. “We hope the relevant senators can do more to promote peace and stability of the region.”

Democratic Sen. Jim Webb led a bipartisan group of four senators who introduced the resolution. Webb said Southeast Asian countries were worried about China’s “pattern of intimidation,” and that the United States had a strategic interest in facilitating multilateral negotiations.

The Obama administration supports multilateral negotiations, but has been less strident in confronting China.

Hong added that China wants disputes to be handled through “friendly consultations” between the parties directly concerned.

“Others without a direct stake should respect the efforts made by those directly concerned to resolve South China Sea disputes through dialogue and in a peaceful manner,” he said.

More than 1,200 U.S. and Philippine navy personnel, meanwhile, began 11 days of exercises Tuesday that would include live-fire drills, tracking and interdiction, and patrolling maneuvers in the Sulu Sea off the western Philippine province of Palawan, which lies near the disputed Spratly Islands.

The annual maneuvers were unrelated to recent spats between China and the Philippines over the Spratlys. They aim to generally improve both navies’ ability to deal jointly with any naval threat, Philippine navy spokesman Lt. Noel Cadigal said.

The U.S. Navy deployed the guided missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Howard, along with the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard and 800 personnel, including Navy Seabees and Riverine forces. Two Philippine navy patrol ships and more than 450 Filipino sailors joined the exercises, officials said.

Aside from the three ships, the U.S. Navy would deploy SH-60 Seahawk aircraft and the P-3c Orion, a long-range anti-submarine warfare patrol and surveillance plane.

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