Reiterating historical claims the Chinese military declared Friday that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Sea, but back-pedalled somewhat by saying it would continue to allow others to freely navigate what is one of the busiest waterways in the world. These remarks, in part, are a reaction to a move last week by the United States, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries to challenge China's claims to the whole sea.
On 23 July, US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, told a meeting on Asian security in Hanoi that it was in the United States' "national interest" that freedom of navigation be maintained in the sea.
She also challenged China's claims to the whole sea, through which more than half of all shipped merchant tonnage passes each year.
Observers said the statement by the People's Liberation Army was designed to reiterate China's claims to the entire 1.3 million-square-mile waterway.
"China has indisputable sovereignty of the South Sea, and China has sufficient historical and legal backing" to support its claims, senior Col Geng Yansheng, a ministry of defence spokesman, told reporters Friday in Beijing.
But he added, "We will, in accordance with the demands of international law, respect the freedom of the passage of ships or aircraft from relevant countries."