Russia backs China's challenges to US over Asian flashpoints

By BLOOMBERG Published: April 29, 2016

Russia offered support for China's opposition to U.S. actions in two of Asia's biggest security flash points amid mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea.

Foreign ministers from China and Russia expressed "grave concern" about the possible U.S. deployment of the Thaad anti-missile system in South Korea to defend against the growing North Korean nuclear threat. Russia also backed China's stance that non-claimants like the United States shouldn't "interfere" in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two sides had a "unified position" on North Korea. He warned against any attempts to use the nuclear threat "as a justification for building up military potential on the Korean Peninsula."

The U.S.'s missile shield plan and its naval challenges to China's claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea have fueled tensions among the dominant powers in Asia. China fears that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system could be used against its own weaponry. It has also been lobbying for international support for its position on the South China Sea as it braces for a ruling by an international arbitration panel on a challenge to its claims by the Philippines.

The U.S. and South Korea began talks on the possible deployment of the Thaad system after North Korea tested a fourth nuclear device on Jan. 6, followed by further missile tests. The Thaad "exceeds the realistic defensive needs of the relevant countries," Wang said. "If it is deployed, it will have a direct impact on the Chinese and Russian strategic security."

This was the second meeting between Chinese and Russian foreign ministers within two weeks, as the two countries prepare for a June summit between presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. In an April 18 meeting in Moscow, Wang and Lavrov said both countries opposed "internationalizing" the South China Sea dispute, calling for settlements through negotiation and consultation among the "relevant parties," a diplomatic phrase Beijing uses to exclude non-claimants.

"Russia's position is that it should not be an international issue and no external forces should interfere," Lavrov said at the briefing Friday.

China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres of land in the South China Sea over the past two years as it builds a platform to assert its claims to more than 80 percent of the water. The U.S. has responded by sending warships near Chinese outposts in what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations.

Tensions have been mounting ahead of the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which is expected within weeks. Beijing rejects the court's jurisdiction and insists all disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks.

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