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China summons US diplomat in row over South China Sea

China has summoned a senior US diplomat to protest against America's criticism of Beijing's establishment of a military garrison in the South China Sea. The move had intensified a bitter row over the disputed waters.

China's Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the US Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang on Saturday after America expressed concern over the contested South China Sea.

Zhang fiercely dismissed US concerns in his statement on Saturday, saying they "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."

"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition, urges the US side to immediately to mend the error of its ways, earnestly respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and do more to genuinely benefit stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific," he added.

Map of the South China Sea

Six countries lay claim to areas of the South China Sea

Beijing announced last month that it had established a new city and garrison in the sea's Paracel Islands. China claims sovereignty over large parts of the South China Sea despite several areas being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In a separate statement, ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had absolute sovereignty over the sea and had every right to set up a city to administer the region.

He accused the US of "selective blindness" as "certain countries" had escalated the dispute by opening oil and gas blocks.

The US State Department issued a statement on Friday, saying it was concerned that the move would deepen an already fraught situation.

The establishment of the garrison runs "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risks further escalating tensions in the region," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. He added that America intended to monitor the situation closely.

Protesters hold banners while chanting slogans during an anti-China protest along a street in Hanoi

Vietnam has seen regular protests against China's attempt to strenghten its claim on areas of the South China Sea

China's decision to set up the garrison has infuriated Vietnam and the Philippines, who have accused Beijing of stepping up harassment. The bitter dispute has made the South China Sea Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint with several of the claimants, including China, racing to tap possibly huge oil reserves.

The issue has sparked a number of protests in Vietnam's capital Hanoi in recent months. Police on Sunday arrested at least 40 people in the city who were preparing to stage another anti-China demonstration.

ccp/kms (AFP, Reuters)