China's defence minister calls for improved crisis management

BEIJING - China's defence minister called on Friday for better regional crisis management, saying that his country's armed forces wanted peace but would never forget bitter lessons of the past.

The expansion of China's military, increasingly projecting power into Asia-Pacific waters, has raised the hackles of some of its neighbours, which have competing territorial claims in the East China and South China seas.

Some countries in the region, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have sought closer US ties to counter what they see as China's aggression.

The prospect of an unintended confrontation between US and Chinese forces in the Asia-Pacific has led the two powers to discuss mechanisms to reduce military tensions. "We call for further strengthening of dispute management procedures to improve our ability to cope with crises," Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told a security forum in Beijing attended by senior officials and academics from Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific. "Disputes should be resolved through negotiations with full respect to historical facts and international law," Chang said in rare public remarks, adding that China is "exploring the possibility of opening a defence hotline" with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He gave no further details.

But Chang said "China has learned a bitter lesson from its wretched history", vowing that the country would expand its military might while playing down its current capabilities. "At present the Chinese military has yet to become fully mechanised and its application of information technology is still at an early stage. It lags far behind those advanced military forces elsewhere in the world," Chang said.

Relations between China and Japan have been soured over the past two years by a territorial row in the East China Sea and the legacy of Japan's wartime occupation of China.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing claims in the potentially energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, criss-crossed by shipping lanes crucial for the smooth flow of international trade.

Beijing is irked by US military spy flights near its coast, especially off Hainan Island, home to a major Chinese submarine base.

Deals announced by US President Barack Obama after talks last week with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping require each country to notify the other of major military activities, including exercises, and cover rules of behaviour for air and maritime encounters.