China said on Sunday it had summoned the U.S. embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission to lodge “serious representations” over a statement from Washington accusing Beijing of risking escalating tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

Strong dissatisfaction

Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng told the U.S. diplomat Robert Wang that China expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” at Friday’s statement from the State Department, which “disregarded the facts, confused right with wrong, sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific”.

Graphic: South China Sea oil disputes escalate

The State Department had said, on Friday, that China’s move to upgrade the administrative level of Sansha city — on Woody Island in the disputed Paracels — and establish a new military garrison there ran “counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences” and risked “further escalating tensions in the region”.

China has in recent months had run-ins with both the Philippines and Vietnam, which, along with at least eight other countries, hold competing claims over the disputed South China Sea and its islands.

While officials here have blamed the U.S. — which has stressed its interest in ensuring freedom of navigation in the strategically important waters — for stirring trouble in the region, countries like Vietnam have recently sought closer defence cooperation with Washington, citing concerns over an increasingly assertive China.

Selective blindness

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang in a statement on Saturday accused the U.S. of “selective blindness” and going against its position of non-intervention in disputes surrounding the South China Sea.

“Why does the U.S. turn a blind eye to the facts that certain countries opened a number of oil and gas blocks, and issued domestic laws illegally appropriating Chinese islands and waters?” he said in the statement, in a likely reference to recent moves by Vietnam — which have angered Beijing — to offer oil blocks for exploration to a number of foreign companies, including India’s ONGC Videsh.

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