BEIJING, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - China on Wednesday warned the United States to stay out of the deepening territorial spat in the South China Sea and accused other countries in the region of provocation, a report said.
Vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said neighbouring countries, including Vietnam, were responsible for recent incidents in the disputed waters and dismissed calls for Washington to play a greater role in resolving tensions .
"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," Cui was quoted by the Wall Street Journal saying.
Tensions between China and other rival claimants to the strategically vital waters -- home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys -- have escalated in recent weeks.
The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed area, but Beijing has repeatedly said it was committed to resolving the issue peacefully.
US Senator John McCain on Monday called for Washington to expand military and political support to Southeast Asian nations to stand up to China over the increasingly volatile issue.
But Cui -- speaking ahead of weekend talks in Hawaii with US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on Asia-Pacific affairs -- said Washington should limit itself to urging "more restraint and responsible behaviour from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions".
"Some American friends may think the US can provide some help. We appreciate the gesture, but sometimes such help can only make things more complicated," he was quoted saying.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday China's territorial claims in the South China Sea did not interfere with other countries' right to travel in the hotly contested waters -- but maintained its sovereignty in the area.
"China's maintenance of sovereignty in the South China Sea and rising interest will never influence the freedom of navigation of other countries in the South China Sea," Hong told reporters.
"There has never been a problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea."