, BEIJING, Feb 22 – China’s foreign minister Wang Yi will visit the US from Tuesday, his ministry said, as the two powers grapple over weapons systems on the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea.
The three-day trip comes with Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over militarisation in the South China Sea, while at the same time trying to find common ground on how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest tests.
Last week China confirmed that it has “weapons” on Woody Island in the disputed Paracels chain.
A US official told AFP that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles on the island, apparently HQ-9s, which have a range of about 200 kilometres (125 miles).
The US is also beginning talks with South Korea on the possible deployment of an advanced missile defence system on the Korean peninsula.
China opposes the proposed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD), with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying warning Monday that it should not be used as a front to “undermine China’s own legitimate [security] interests”.
The move comes in response to Pyongyang’s launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, which most in the international community viewed as a disguised ballistic missile test, violating multiple UN resolutions banning it from the use of ballistic technology.
The rocket came just a month after the North’s fourth nuclear test.
Hua anticipated an “in-depth exchange of views” on the issue when Wang goes to Washington for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, referencing previous “close communication and coordination” on the matter between the US and China.
“After the DPRK’s nuclear test and satellite launch, we support the UN Security Council in passing new and effective resolutions against the DPRK,” she told a regular briefing, referring to North Korea.
Tensions in the South China Sea – through which a third of the world’s oil passes – have mounted in recent months after China transformed contested reefs in the Spratly islands further south than the Paracels into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Beijing’s military facilities in the area come under “the exercise of self-defence rights granted by international law” and “have nothing to do with militarisation,” Hua said.
“China deploying necessary national defence facilities on its own territory is no different from the US deploying defence facilities on Hawaii,” she added.
China controls all of the Paracels, though Hanoi and Taipei have overlapping claims.
Kerry told reporters last week: “There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another. It’s of a serious concern.
“We have said repeatedly with respect to China that the standard that should be applied to all countries with respect to the South China Sea is no militarisation,” he added, stating that he expected “further very serious conversations” on the issue.
US President Barack Obama last week also called for “tangible steps” to lower tension in the region.