China has warned Asian nations not to provoke it under the cover of US military backing, in a move that plays out Beijing's desire to challenge the United States' power in the region.
This comes after Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda and Philippine president Benigno Aquino agreed on Tuesday to strengthen cooperation between their coast guards and navel forces amid the disputes with China.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other nations are contesting claims over parts of the South China Sea, an area comprised of small inhabitable islands, rocks and reefs, but believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.
"We, where we come from, expect South China Sea tensions to continue because the root cause is really China's perceived need to break out from… the strategic dominance of the Western allies," said former Philippine president Fidel Ramos on a visit to Washington.
"China's proximate aim, it seems to me, is to limit US freedom of success and erode the credibility of Washington's security guarantees to the East Asian states, including and especially the Philippines," he continued.
In response, the Xinhua news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei as saying that "there is absolutely no question about the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea. Countries in and out of the region are beneficiaries".
Taking a tougher stance via the central party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily reported that "certain countries think as long as they can balance China with the help of US military power, they are free to do whatever they want".
"We don't deny that some Asian countries have a certain feeling of insecurity in the face of China's rapid rise, particularly that the development of China's military power will destroy the balance long meticulously maintained by the US," said the People's Daily editorial. "But today's Asia has changed."