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China is committed to resolving maritime disputes through talks, official says

China is committed to resolving maritime disputes through talks, official says
Central Military Commission (CMC) Vice Chairman Zhang Youxia speaks at the opening ceremony of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, Shandong province, China April 22, 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters

QINGDAO, China — China remains committed to resolving maritime disputes with other countries through dialogue but will not allow itself to be "abused," a senior military official said at a meeting of senior foreign naval officials in the port city of Qingdao on Monday (April 22).

The sea should not be an arena where countries can flex their "gunboat muscles", added Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and a close ally of President Xi Jinping.

"Reality has shown that those who make deliberate provocations, stoke tensions, or support one side against another for selfish gains will ultimately only hurt themselves," Zhang said.

The comments were an apparent reference to growing tensions in the South China Sea, where Washington treaty ally Manila is in a fraught standoff with Beijing over the strategic waterway, a potential flashpoint for US-China relations.

Zhang also told the gathered delegates that "carrying out maritime containment, encirclement and island blockades will only plunge the world into a vortex of division and turbulence."

The event overlaps with annual US-Philippines large-scale joint military drills, which begin on Monday and will be held outside Philippine territorial waters for the first time.

Tensions are particularly high around the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, where Manila has accused Beijing of "harassment", including the use of water cannons against Philippine vessels.

The Western Pacific Naval Symposium is a rare opportunity for countries with opposing regional interests to exchange views. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Stephen Koehler is attending the from the United States. Other delegations include Australia, France, India, Russia and UK.

Participants will hold closed-door talks on topics such as addressing maritime security challenges and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a set of guidelines meant to de-escalate tensions between militaries at sea.

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