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Friday, July 19, 2024

China denies intimidating Pacific nation

Beijing has rebuffed accusations of incursions into Palau’s waters without permission

China has rejected claims that its vessels made incursions into Palau’s territorial waters, after the Pacific island nation requested additional US military patrols, citing a threat from Beijing.

Asked on Thursday about accusations that Chinese ships had entered Palau’s exclusive economic zone without permission on multiple occasions this year, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin insisted that Chinese vessels follow international law.

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“The Chinese vessels were taking shelter from the wind at relevant waters and they did not conduct any maritime exploration or survey activities,” Wang said.

The official added that Beijing has “asked Chinese vessels to exercise their right to freedom of navigation and carry out scientific research activities in strict accordance with the law.”

Earlier on Thursday, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. told reporters that he would welcome an increased US military presence around his country, citing the alleged Chinese incursions.

He argued the move was “about preparedness,” adding that Washington is “very aware” of the situation and is “continuously” working to improve Palau’s security.

“We believe in the concept that you get peace through strength, and presence is deterrence… I know everybody’s concerned about the escalation [of regional tensions]… If we don’t show any strength, then we’re going to be vulnerable,” Whipps Jr. said, calling for the deployment of additional US Coast Guard troops.

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The US has struck or renewed security pacts with several Pacific island countries in recent weeks, including Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and Palau. Officials have sought to grow US influence in the region after Beijing reached a major military and development deal with the Solomon Islands last year, triggering anxiety in Washington.

After being shuttered decades ago, the US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands earlier this year, with the State Department saying the move was a priority given China’s “growing influence” and fears of a military build-up in the region.

Responding to the upcoming US deployment to Palau, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman went on to urge both countries to “contribute to the peace, development and stability in the Pacific island countries,” adding that “security cooperation between states should not target any third party.”

Beijing and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of stoking tensions in the South China Sea and the greater Indo-Pacific. China denies that it has been coercing its neighbors, and has urged the US to abandon a “Cold War mentality.”