Cheong Wa Dae called for a peaceful resolution between the United States and China, Wednesday, to the escalating military tension in the South China Sea.
“Korea has strategic interests in the South China Sea and we’ve been strongly calling for restraint of any action that can affect peace and stability in the region,” a senior presidential official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official pointed out that 30 percent of Seoul’s exports and 90 percent of its energy imports are shipped across the waters claimed by Beijing, but viewed as international territory by Washington in the South China Sea.
“We urge the settling of the dispute peacefully in accordance with international norms,” the official added.
The presidential office’s announcement came after China accused the U.S. of committing a “deliberate provocation” by sending its Navy destroyer, the USS Lassen, close to an artificial island built by Beijing in the South China Sea, Tuesday.
Beijing also summoned U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, Wednesday, in protest of the USS Lassen entering what China claims to be a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around Subi Reef.
This is one of China’s man-made islands in the Spratly Islands chain, a group of reefs, islets and atolls where the Philippines, a U.S. ally, has competing claims.
International maritime law allows a country to have sovereignty over a 12-nautical-mile zone surrounding natural islands. But it does not allow nations to claim ownership of artificial islands.
China has transformed reefs and outcrops in the region into the disputed islands through a massive dredging project, since 2013, for military purposes.
The U.S. insisted on freedom of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea, saying it is “conducting routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.”
Korea has remained cautious and has reiterated the principle of international law amid escalating military tension.
However, it will not be the case if the ongoing tension between the two superpowers heightens, according to an international relations expert.
“The U.S. wants Korea to ensure that their alliance remains strong and prove it whenever conflicts like the one in the South China Sea occur,” said Kwak Jin-o, a senior researcher at the Northeast Asian History Foundation.