November 30, 2012 / 7:59 AM / 7 years ago

China says freedom of navigation in South China Sea is important

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Friday that it attached great importance to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea after state media said police in its southern island province of Hainan will board and search ships which illegally enter what China considers its territory in the disputed waters.

“All countries have freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in accordance with international law,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing. “China attaches great importance to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

“At present there are no problems in this regard,” Hong said, adding that Beijing hoped to resolve tensions through talks.

The South China Sea is Asia’s biggest potential military trouble spot with several Asian countries claiming sovereignty over waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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