China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

China and US 'cannot afford' conflict

BEIJING has played down the prospects of conflict with the United States over the South China Sea in the wake of aggressive rhetoric by Donald Trump's administration, saying both sides would lose.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich region despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbours and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

The artificial islands are considered a potential flashpoint.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this week during a visit to Australia that war would benefit no one.

"For any sober-minded politician, they clearly recognise that there cannot be conflict between China and the United States,” he said in Canberra through an interpreter, the ABC reported.

"Both will lose and both sides cannot afford that.”

Whitehouse spokesman Sean Spicer last month said the US "is going to make sure we protect our interests” in the South China Sea while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China's access to the islands might be blocked.

Wang pointed to more recent statements by US Defence Secretary James Mattis that it was important to give priority to diplomatic efforts.

After scheduled strategic talks with Wang, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop yesterday said Beijing was keen for a close relationship with the Trump government.


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