The U.S. is keen to raise the issue of China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea at a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in Hiroshima, in a move that would likely draw an angry response from the government in Beijing.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Friday that the U.S. should discuss security issues any time it meets with key partners in Asia. "What we want to see happen in South China Sea is important. It’s important to the region, it’s important to the stability of the region, so I would suggest that those topics should be on the table."
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday said the G-7 meeting shouldn’t "hype" the South China Sea issue. He made the comments in a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Beijing, according to a statement on the ministry’s website Saturday.
While host-nation Japan will decide on the agenda for the two-day meeting that started Sunday, it will likely agree to any request from the U.S. to discuss the South China Sea as it has in recent months stepped up its criticism of China’s activities in the water -- a key maritime artery for trade and energy shipments. While none of the six states that claim part of the region are present in Hiroshima, any implied criticism would be seen in Beijing as a political move to put pressure on China.
Both Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to speak after the meeting closes on Monday afternoon.
China claims more than 80 percent of the water and has constructed artificial islands there for potential development. The U.S. last year sailed a warship near these structures, showing it doesn’t recognize them as having the same rights as Chinese territory. Five other nations claim parts of the same maritime area: Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
China’s trading influence is increasingly matched by an expanded naval presence in the region, with missiles, fighter jets and radar operating from some reefs and islands it controls.