China did not start the current standoff in the South China Sea, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said on Wednesday at a news briefing in Beijing before an annual strategic and economic dialogue with senior U.S. officials next week.
Cui said China was committed to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve sovereignty disputes in the region.
"We are certainly worried about the South China Sea issue," Cui told a news briefing in Beijing, saying "some people tried to mix two unrelated things, territorial sovereignty and freedom of navigation".
The comments come before high-level talks with the Obama administration. China, which claims the South China Sea as its territory based on historical records, has sought to resolve disputes bilaterally but its neighbors worry over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in its claims in the region.
China's military, in a commentary in the official Liberation Army Daily on April 21, warned the United States that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised the risk of armed confrontation in the South China Sea.
It was the harshest warning yet after weeks of tension. Peking University professor Jia Qingguo said China may be preparing to take a tougher line on disputes, adding many in China want the United States to rein in the Philippines.
"Quite a lot of people are thinking that the U.S. is encouraging the Philippines to create a problem for China in the South China Sea," Jia said.
U.S. and Philippine troops launched two weeks of annual naval exercises in mid-April. Amphibious landing drills took place on Wednesday in areas facing the South China Sea. On April 21, joint marine units simulated an assault to retake an oil rig from militants in northern Palawan.
The drill, part of annual U.S.-Philippine war games on the western island of Palawan, comes after the Chinese military warned last week that the exercise raised the risks of armed confrontation over contested areas of the South China Sea.
U.S. and Philippine military officials however said the drills were not directed at China or any other party.