China pledges to settle sea disputes peacefully

China pledges to settle sea disputes peacefully

BEIJING - Days after moving four more oil rigs into the tense South China Sea, China's leaders sought to reassure the world that it wants to resolve its differences with other countries through peaceful means.

In Greece, where he was on an official visit, Premier Li Keqiang said last Friday that China is committed to settling maritime disputes through dialogue and negotiation, on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law.

Reports said Mr Li emphasised that "resorting to conflict to fight over the sea has only brought disaster for humanity", and pledged to jointly build a "sea of peace" with other countries.

China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development and firmly oppose any act of hegemony in maritime affairs, he added.

In Beijing, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who oversees foreign policy, said at the third World Peace Forum yesterday that China "will not inflict the agony" it suffered in the past, at the hands of Western aggressors, on other countries.

Mr Yang was delivering the keynote speech at the international security forum, which was organised by Tsinghua University and the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.

High-ranking Chinese leaders deliver the keynote speeches every year at the event - President Xi Jinping started the ball rolling in 2012 - and international bigwigs feature on its panels.

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi and former Japanese premier Yukio Hatoyama were among the guests at this year's edition.

Mr Li's and Mr Yang's remarks came at the end of a week in which China looked to be intensifying its oil and gas exploration efforts in the South China Sea.

It has conflicting claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over many islands and reefs in the resource-rich sea. Tensions there have been high since China sent a first oil rig into waters which are also claimed by Vietnam on May 2.

Anti-China riots across Vietnam killed four people, while Chinese and Vietnamese ships have clashed daily around the rig since.

Last week, China's Maritime Safety Administration said that four other oil rigs would be moved out to various areas in the South China Sea. Last Friday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hua Chunying said that "there is no need for overreading or to make any particular links".

In his keynote speech yesterday, Mr Yang emphasised that "independence and peace are what the Chinese cherish the most", and that China seeks solutions to its maritime disputes with the "utmost sincerity and patience".

But he made it clear that "we will never trade our core interests, or swallow the bitter fruits that undermine our sovereignty, security and development interests".

Former United States official Stephen Hadley, who was assistant to former president George W. Bush for national security affairs, spoke later in the day. The US is a close military ally of Japan and the Philippines, both of which have clashed with China recently over disputed territory.

Mr Hadley urged China not to think that every move in the South China Sea was "a plot by the United States".

"Like every conspiracy theory, this is not rooted in facts," he said.

This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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