BEIJING – China yesterday rejected US demands to stop all reclamation works in the South China Sea, saying it was exercising its sovereignty and using the outposts to fulfill international responsibilities.
Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff department in the People’s Liberation Army, told a security summit in Singapore that “the situation in the South China Sea is on the whole peaceful and stable, and there has never been an issue with the freedom of navigation.”
“China has carried out construction on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea mainly for the purpose of improving the functions of the relevant islands and reefs, and the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there.
“Apart from meeting the necessary defense needs, it is more geared to better perform China’s international responsibilities and obligations regarding maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production, services,” he added.
China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have varied claims over islets and reefs in the area.
“When dealing with maritime disputes with relevant neighboring countries, China has always kept in mind the larger interest of maritime security,” Sun told the annual meeting known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“In spite of the sufficient historical and legal evidence and its indisputable claims, rights and interests, China has exercised enormous restraint, making positive contributions to peace and stability of the region and the world at large.”
Beijing ‘out of step’
Sun was speaking a day after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanded an immediate end to all reclamation works by claimants and said Beijing was “out of step” with international norms with its behavior in disputed waters.
“First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes. To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” Carter said on Saturday at the same forum with Sun and his delegation in the audience.
“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features,” he said.
He acknowledged that other claimants have developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five and Taiwan with one.
“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other.
“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months,” Carter said.
Beijing has accused Washington of carrying out provocative moves in the South China Sea.
In an interview released over the weekend by the Wall Street Journal, China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said US actions and rhetoric could make the region “less stable.”
The Chinese military this month ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft to leave an area above the heavily-disputed Spratly Islands. But the American plane ignored the demand.
This was “clearly an attempt to provoke and escalate the situation,” Cui said.
Air defense zone depends on security
China will base its decision on establishing an air defense identification zone around disputed waters in the South China Sea on its assessment of the security situation, a senior Chinese military official said on Sunday.
Land reclamation work by China around disputed islands has led to speculation it will declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which will require overflying aircraft to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. The United States has expressed concern that Chinese actions threaten freedom of navigation and security in the Asia-Pacific.
The PLA’s Sun told a regional security forum that China’s actions are peaceful and legitimate, calling on other countries to stop trying to “sow discord” over the matter.
“There is no reason for people to play up this issue in the South China Sea,” Sun said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, adding that an ADIZ depends on any threats to air or maritime security.
Sun’s comments came as proceedings at the Shangri-La Dialogue were overshadowed by news that police had shot dead one man and detained two others in a car that tried to crash through barricades around the venue before dawn. Police said it was unrelated to the conference.
The shooting happened yards from the hotel where dozens of defense leaders and military heads, including US Defense Secretary Carter, were staying, although none were in any danger.
All three were Singaporean and they weren’t carrying any weapons, although the men arrested were carrying substances believed to be drugs, Singapore Police Force said.
On Saturday, Carter told the forum that China’s reclamation activities boosted the risk of “miscalculation or conflict,” drawing a scathing response from China’s foreign ministry.
However, Sun maintained a measured tone in his address, refraining from singling out the United States for criticism and emphasizing China’s commitment to peaceful relations.
“China has always kept in mind the larger interests of maritime security,” Sun said, reiterating that his country’s “indisputable” claims over the waters were based on legal and historical evidence.
“We hope relevant countries will work together in the same direction to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and co-operation,” he said.
Defense chiefs urge restraint
Representatives from claimant countries as well others from Southeast Asia and Europe urged restraint on all parties in handling the dispute.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Saturday said if claimant countries did not exercise restraint, the territorial dispute “could escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not history.”
Hishammuddin repeated a call by Carter and other Western and Asian leaders for China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a “code of conduct” in the disputed waters this year.
The Singapore summit, now on its 14th year, was earlier Sunday marred by a brief security lockdown after police shot dead a man in an apparent drug-related incident outside the venue, the Shangri-La Hotel.
The conference resumed at 9 am (0100 GMT) with no signs of alarm in the hotel, located close to Singapore’s leafy diplomatic quarter. – AFP, Reuters