Xi Jinping pledges freedom of passage in South China Sea

President Xi Jinping thanking the audience after his speech at NUS. With him are (from left) NUS president Tan Chor Chuan, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute board of trustees chairman Wang Gungwu. The lecture was attended by political and business leaders, diplomats, academics and students.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

There has never been a problem with freedom of navigation or overland flights in the South China Sea, nor will there ever be, Chinese President Xi Jinping said.

Making the pledge during the Singapore Lecture yesterday, Mr Xi said the "starting point and ultimate purpose of China's policy towards the South China Sea is to maintain peace and stability there".

"Thanks to the joint efforts of China and other states, the situation in the South China Sea is generally peaceful," he said, adding that China intends to keep it so, as it is the country that needs freedom of navigation through those waters the most.

Mr Xi repeated China's position that islands in the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times and that the Chinese government has a duty to uphold its sovereign rights and maritime interests. But he emphasised that China seeks to resolve its territorial disputes through peaceful dialogue.

The most important task facing all Asian countries, he said, is ensuring robust and sustained development, which requires a peaceful and stable environment.

"This is the biggest common interest of Asian countries. Non-Asian countries should understand and respect this, and play a constructive role," he added.

The broad theme in Mr Xi's 40-minute speech at the National University of Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music was of China's peaceful intentions.

"Some people are fanning up the so-called 'China threat'. They may do so out of ignorance of China's past and present or its culture and policies, or... out of misunderstanding of, and bias against, China. Some may even have some kind of hidden agenda," he said.

"Let me be clear, China is committed to peaceful development and pursues an independent foreign policy of peace. "This is not an expediency; it is a strategic decision made by China, as well as a solemn pledge it has made to the world," he added.

The Chinese leader, whose state visit here was to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two sides, also spoke on the bilateral relationship, as well as his country's own domestic policy priorities. These include tackling rural and urban poverty, cementing the middle class and finding an environmentally sustainable development path.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat were at the lecture, attended by political and business leaders, diplomats, academics and students.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean delivered the opening and closing remarks at the lecture.

Saying that he wants to deepen China's co-operation with its Asian neighbours, Mr Xi suggested four guiding ideas:

That Asian nations should work together to uphold peace and stability and never let animosity divide them.

Jointly prioritise development that improves the lives of their people, and engage in mutual assistance to this end.

Cooperate in addressing security threats and "non-traditional" challenges like environmental protection.

Work to deepen their common Asian identity, and draw on people-to-people ties and a history of shared culture to ensure long-term harmony.

Mr Xi congratulated Singapore on its Golden Jubilee and lauded the "hard-working and visionary people" who built the city into one of the most advanced countries in Asia.

Singapore and China, he said, have a partnership that progresses with time. "I'm confident we will scale new heights," he added.

rchang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 8, 2015.
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