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In response to China's air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, US Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that US military operations would not be deterred. He added that there should be no moves by the People's Republic to replicate this zone any further south.
During a visit to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, Kerry insisted that China should not take unilateral actions similar to those that were undertaken on November 23rd, when the Asian superpower declared this defence zone. The main issue for the US is the fact that this zone also covers territory claimed by China's neighbours, Japan and South Korea.
There was a moment of friction when a US naval vessel confronted a Chinese military ship in the South China Sea: a region where China has already been embroiled in territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines. After meeting Vietnam's foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, Kerry reiterated the US foreign policy viewpoint that stability and peace in the South China Sea remained a top priority.
It went without saying that the international markets, which were often fragile at the best of times, would scarcely benefit from a prolonged period of stand-offs between various Pacific neighbours.
Kerry is obviously trading in delicate diplomatic waters. As China continues to assert itself in the international trade arena, it is doing so against the backdrop of its parallel involvement in territorial disputes. The air and seas off China's costs are coming under increasing attention from Beijing. For all this, it is China that has gone out of its way to try and defuse tensions arising in the South China Sea. Amongst other things, its diplomats have agreed to talks on a code of conduct for this area.
There is no doubt that for a moment things did get a bit heated in the South China Sea, with China complaining that an American patrol ship got very close to its Liaoning aircraft carrier. There was a lot of the customary sabre-rattling that usually accompanies these types of international incident. But for the most part the situation was resolved professionally and amicably.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told Kerry he hoped their two nations could “deepen strategic trust and cooperation”, as well as “properly handle issues of sensitivity and difference”.