Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Sunday warned some countries not to "internationalize" the territorial dispute over the South China Sea that Beijing faces with its neighbors, following comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the issue at a regional security meeting.
"What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one? It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult," Yang was quoted as saying in a press release posted on the ministry's website on Sunday.
"International practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations," he said.
Yang made the remarks after Clinton spoke at the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum in Vietnam, where she said resolving disputes over the South China Sea was "pivotal" to regional stability and suggested an international mechanism to solve the issue.
"The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea," Clinton said at Asia's largest security dialogue.
Washington has called for unfettered access to the area and accused Beijing of adopting an increasingly aggressive stance on the high seas.
China has territorial disputes with a few ASEAN member countries.
The South China Sea is currently a peaceful area with navigational freedom, he said. "Trade has been growing rapidly in this region and China has become the number one trading partner of many countries in the region," Yang said. "In my bilateral discussions with both ASEAN colleagues and others, they all say that there is no threat to regional peace and stability."
He also said it is not China but some other country that is "coercing" regional countries to take sides on the issue and that Asia can solve its own problems without interference by outside countries.
ASEAN is also not an appropriate forum to resolve the issue, Yang said.
"China and some ASEAN nations have territorial and maritime rights disputes because we are neighbors. And those disputes shouldn't be viewed as ones between China and ASEAN as a whole just because the countries involved are ASEAN members," he said.