(Adds self-immolation in Vietnam)
By Sui-Lee Wee and Manuel Mogato
BEIJING/MANILA May 23 China warned Japan on
Friday to stay out of a growing dispute with its neighbours over
the South China Sea, as the Philippines implicitly accused
Beijing of delaying talks aimed at a solution.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting
rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines,
Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei in one of Asia's most intractable
disputes and a possible flashpoint. It also has a separate
maritime dispute with Japan over islands in the East Sea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expressed
concern about regional tensions that he said were stoked by
China's "unilateral drilling" after China moved a giant oil rig
into disputed waters, a moved denounced by the Philippines,
Vietnam and the United States.
"The relevant Japanese statement neglects reality and
confuses the facts, and takes a political motive to interfere
with the situation in the South China Sea for a secret purpose,"
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily
"We require the Japanese side to consistently take realistic
actions to protect the region's peace and stability."
The Philippines blamed a slowdown in talks on ending the
disputes on "construction" changing the ground rules, an
apparent reference to China.
The Philippines is pushing for a "code of conduct".
"The code of conduct has been long in coming, we have been
discussing this for the past seven or eight years, and we're
also wondering why there is a delay," Philippine Foreign
Ministry Undersecretary Laura del Rosario said.
"Are we changing the environment so that when we are ready
to discuss the code of conduct, the environment has changed?"
Del Rosario, speaking at a security outlook session of the
World Economic Forum, said there had been "changes" on the
ground since talks began, without specifically mentioning China.
"There are a lot of build-ups, a lot of construction going
on, until we realise people are already doing some kind of a
Last week, the Philippine foreign ministry released aerial
surveillance pictures of a reef showing what it said was Chinese
reclamation and the building of what appeared to be an airstrip.
SLOWING THE TALKS
A Malaysian diplomatic source said China was deliberately
slowing down the talks.
"China has been reluctant to even talk about the code of
conduct," the diplomatic source said. "It's a carrot to dangle
in the distance. We are dealing with a superpower."
In Vietnam, emotions have run so high a 67-year-old woman
killed herself by setting herself on fire, local government
The woman set herself ablaze at about 6 a.m. in front of the
Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Le Truong Hai Hieu, a
senior city official, said by telephone.
"She carried banners saying 'Against China in Vietnam's sea'
and 'I will bless Vietnam's marine police'," Hieu said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said his
government was considering various "defence options" against
China, including legal action, following the deployment of the
Dung's comments, given in a written response to questions
from Reuters, were the first time he has suggested Vietnam would
take legal measures, and drew an angry response from China.
Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last week after the
$1 billion deepwater rig owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil
company was parked 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Vietnam.
Hanoi says the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive
economic zone and on its continental shelf. China has said the
rig was operating completely within its waters.
"We prepared all possible measures, including legal
measures," Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, head of Vietnam's Foreign
Ministry legal department, said on Friday.
"Using legal measures is better than armed conflict."
(Additinal Reporting by Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur and
Nguyen Phuong Linh in Hanoi; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by