China army condemns South Korean-US sea drills, demands Washington heed Beijing's objections

BEIJING (AP) — China's military on Thursday condemned a second round of U.S.-South Korean naval drills planned in the Yellow Sea in the coming weeks, vowing it would respond in kind.

Beijing opposes actions by foreign military ships and planes in waters near its coast that could "affect China's security interests," the military's newspaper People's Liberation Army Daily said in an editorial.

"If no one harms me, I harm no one, but if someone harms me, I must harm them," said the editorial, signed by Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, a frequent outspoken commentator on military matters.

"As far as the Chinese people and the Chinese military are concerned, these are not joking remarks," Luo wrote.

China has repeatedly criticized the drills, saying they risked heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula and ignored its objections to any foreign military exercises off its coast.

The expected participation of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington is particularly irksome to China because of its status as a symbol of U.S. power in the Pacific and the possibility of its F-18 warplanes flying within range of Beijing.

The exercises are the second in a series of U.S.-South Korean maneuvers to be conducted in the East Sea off Korea and the Yellow Sea. No date has been announced, but they are expected to happen in the coming weeks. The first maneuvers were conducted last week.

Although the Yellow Sea consists mostly of international waters, China regards it as lying within its vaguely defined security perimeter. China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement earlier this week demanding the U.S. and South Korea "take China's position and concern seriously."

While Luo's editorial mentioned no specific responses, China has recently given an unusual degree of publicity to a series of military drills and live-firing exercises along its eastern coastline — seen by some as a direct response to the U.S.-South Korean exercises.

The criticism comes amid renewed verbal sniping between Beijing and Washington over the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety, along with the myriad tiny islands lying within it.

Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have staked claims on all or some of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes, important fishing grounds and is believed rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

China responded with outrage when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regional conference last month that the U.S. had a "national interest" in seeing territorial disputes in the South China Sea resolved through a "collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants."

Beijing prefers to leverage its size and strength to deal with each claimant individually and blasted Clinton's remarks as U.S. interference in its affairs.

China has also been alarmed by joint search-and-rescue exercises this week between the U.S. and Vietnamese navies, viewing it as part of efforts to build an "Asian NATO" to contain Beijing's rising influence.