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US Official: China’s Island-Building ‘Troubling’

FILE - Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said Thursday that the U.S. is troubled by China’s island-building actions in the South China Sea.

“China’s guidelines on reclaimed areas is troubling, not only to us, but others in the region,” Russel said.

Russel said China’s proposals will be a part of talks at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held next week in Washington, D.C.

Neither China's recent statement regarding land reclamation nor its behavior is reducing regional tensions “[and] that is what we would all want," he said.

“Frankly, it’s an issue between China and international law,” he said.

'Avoid military confrontation'

Russel said the Obama administration is committed to dialogue with China.

“There is an unwavering determination on the part of the United States to avoid military confrontation, including with China," Russel said. "That serves no one’s interest and, frankly, that is not the issue that faces us in the South China Sea."

Earlier this week, China announced it would soon finish its controversial land reclamation efforts in some disputed areas of the South China Sea, but it also vowed to continue building on the man-made islands, which has provoked tension from rival claimants.

In a brief statement, China’s foreign ministry defended the land reclamation project as being "beyond reproach" and mainly meant for civilian, not military, purposes.

"It is fair, reasonable, and lawful. It does not affect, and is not targeted against, any country and will not affect countries' freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea," the statement said, echoing earlier Chinese assertions.

However, the United States has become increasingly outspoken in its opposition to the island-building project, which it now says takes up more than 2,000 acres on once uninhabited atolls and reefs in the strategic waterway.

Russel said neither the foreign ministry's statement or China's behavior is reducing regional tensions “[and] that is what we would all want.”

Cyber issues

Cyberspace will also be discussed.

The U.S. and China are “two of the biggest consumers of the Internet – our businesses, our organizations and our people are vulnerable,” Russel said.

“The president said yesterday that the intrusions and the attacks against us all aren’t going to stop. If anything, they’re likely to accelerate," he said. "That requires that we significantly enhance our ability to safeguard the ability of our citizens to use cyberspace.”

A cyber set of issues will clearly be an important component of the upcoming dialogue, Russel said. “There is a need for dialogue and a need for real transparency."

The U.S. and China had created a cybersecurity working group. But after U.S. officials charged five members of China’s military for hacking in May 2014, China pulled out of the group. China denies the hacking charges.

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