BEIJING -- Britain on Monday firmly rejected a statement from China that affirmed Beijing's support for Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, as relations between London and Asia's leading power remain strained.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a tweet that the United Kingdom “completely" rejected "any questions over sovereignty of the Falklands.”
“The Falklands are part of the British family and we will defend their right to self determination. China must respect the Falklands’ sovereignty,” she wrote.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Argentine counterpart Alberto Fernandez issued a joint statement on Sunday that said China “reaffirms its support for Argentina’s demand for the full exercise of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands,” using the Argentine name for the territory. The two leaders met as Fernandez was in Beijing for the Winter Olympics.
Argentina believes the Falklands were illegally taken from it in 1833 and invaded the British colony in 1982. The United Kingdom sent troops and Argentina lost the two-month war for the South Atlantic archipelago in a conflict that claimed the lives of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers.
Argentina still claims the islands. London says the Falklands are a self-governing entity under its protection.
Relations with China have already been strained on multiple fronts, including Britain's joining a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest China's human rights record.
The joint statement also said Argentina “reaffirms its adherence to the one-China principle," a reference to China's claim to the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan.
“China and Argentina agree to carry on with close communication and coordination in international affairs, and safeguard the overall interests of the two countries and other developing countries," the statement said.
Xi and Fernandez also pledged closer economic cooperation and signed a memorandum of understanding on Argentina joining the “Belt and Road Initiative,” Xi’s signature project to build Chinese infrastructure worldwide.
China has overtaken Brazil as Argentina’s main commercial partner, and if talks with Beijing remain on track, Argentina would become the first of the four major Latin American economies to join the initiative.
“Belt and Road Initiative integration won’t be a paradigm shift but rather a continuation of broader trends of growing Argentina-China engagement,” said Pepe Zhang, director and fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
During his visit, Fernandez also laid a wreath at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, where the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, the communist revolutionary who founded the People's Republic, is displayed inside a crystal sarcophagus.
Associated Press writer Débora Rey in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.