Beijing: China Thursday asked India to play a "constructive and positive" role in safeguarding peace and stability in the disputed South China Sea, in a guarded reaction to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's call for ensuring freedom of navigation in the strategic waters amid escalated Sino-US tensions.
"We hope that countries who really care about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (SCS) can play (a) constructive and positive role" in peace and stability of the region, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying told a media briefing here in response to a question.
She was reacting to Parrikar's assertions at Kuala Lumpur yesterday expressing concerns over the current round of tensions between US and China over an American naval vessel sailing through artificial islands in the SCS built by Beijing.
China has raised vociferous protests and warned Washington against sending naval vessels and military aircraft to the waters.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan had overlapping claims over a number of islands of the SCS and strongly contest China's claims of sovereignty over almost all of the SCS.
Speaking at the ASEAN Plus defence ministers meeting, Parrikar expressed hope for a "peaceful resolution of the dispute".
Asserting that maritime security is a common challenge, he said "the situation in the South China Sea and recent developments there have attracted concern".
"This is natural since freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with recognised principles of international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, are of concern to all of us," he added.
Assuring that there is no threat to freedom of navigation in the SCS, Hua said it is a major passage for cargo shipping and energy transportation of China.
"China is the littoral country of the SCS. We, of course, care about freedom of navigation in the region," she said.
"China is committed to safeguarding peace and stability of the SCS together with all relevant countries. As we can see that overall situation in the SCS is stable and there has never been any problem about freedom of navigation and over flights in the SCS," she said.
China has been wary about India's Look East Policy under which New Delhi sought to expand its relations with the South East Asian countries in Beijing's backyard, specially India's fast-developing ties with Vietnam and the Philippines.
Beijing also opposes India undertaking oil exploration off Vietnam's coast, asserting that the area falls within the disputed area of the SCS.
India, however, took up Vietnam's invitation, stating that it is undertaking only a commercial activity which has no bearing on the dispute.
About the freedom of navigation, China has maintained that there is no threat to commercial shipping and civilian overflights but considers naval vessels and military aircraft travelling through the area as violation of its sovereignty.
About Parrikar's remarks that all parties to the dispute in the SCS will abide by the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties reached in 2002, Hua said China and ASEAN countries have been making all out efforts to fully and effectively implement the DOC and deepen maritime cooperation and press ahead with negotiations on Code of Conduct (COC).
"Relevant negotiations have made important headway," she said, adding that China's proposals to maintain peace and stability in the area during last month's ASEAN Defence Ministers meeting in Beijing were "warmly received and responded".
"We are ready to make concerted efforts with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries to promote defence security cooperation and jointly safeguard peace and stability of the region which also include peace and stability of the SCS," she said.
On US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter's visit to American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the SCS, Hua said Washington should be "frank and forthright" on the SCS issue.
China is opposed to any actions leading to militarisation of the SCS which pose a threat to other country's sovereignty and security interests in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight, she said.
China has never been opposed to other countries' legitimate rights in real international waterway, she added.
The country respects and safeguards other countries' freedom of navigation in the region under international law. The US should be more open and transparent on the issue, she said.