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China asserts rights over South China Sea amid Trump policy

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying holds a press briefing in Beijing. AP/File

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing reiterated that its actions in the disputed South China Sea are legitimate and justified following a statement from the White House that the United States will defend the disputed waters.

White House spokesperson Sean Spicer earlier said that the administration of US President Donald Trump will defend territories that are in international waters, including those in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that its position on the South China Sea issue remains clear and consistent.

"Regardless changes in relevant countries, what they say or want to do, China will stay as resolute as always in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press briefing.

Hua added that Beijing stands firm in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the contested waters.

Beijing once again called on the United States not to meddle in the South China Sea issue.

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"The United States is not a party to the South China Sea disputes. We urge the US side to respect the facts and be prudent in words and actions to avoid causing disruptions to peace and stability of the South China Sea," Hua said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that Beijing upholds the freedom of navigation, as well as peace and stability in the region.

"What we have been stressing is, China upholds the freedom of navigation enjoyed by countries under international law in the South China Sea, but we oppose intruding navigation that undermines sovereignty and security of coastal countries," Hua said.

Hua noted that the situation in the South China Sea is getting stable due to a consensus reached between China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries.The Philippines is among ASEAN member states that have claims in the region and has agreed to bilateral talks with China on the issue at some point.

"Any responsible country should welcome this positive momentum, and play a positive and constructive role for peace and stability of this region," the official said.

Trump's nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier said that the US should send a clear signal that it has to stop its island-building activities in the region.

Following Tillerson's statement, Beijing warned Washington to stop taking sides on the issue of sovereignty in the region.

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