Jun 03, 2013

    China defends patrols in disputed waters

    CHINESE warships will continue to patrol waters where Beijing has territorial claims, a top general said yesterday, amid simmering rows with neighbouring countries over the South China Sea and islands controlled by Japan.

    Lieutenant-General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, defended the patrols as legitimate and said his country's sovereignty over the areas could not be disputed.

    "Why are Chinese warships patrolling in East China Sea and South China Sea? I think we are all clear about this," he told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security conference here.

    "Our attitude on the East China Sea and South China Sea is that they are under Chinese sovereignty. We are very clear about that," he said through an interpreter. "So the Chinese warships and the patrolling activities are totally legitimate and uncontroversial."

    He was responding to a question from a delegate after he gave a speech, in which he sought to assure neighbouring countries that China has no hegemonic ambitions.

    "China has never taken foreign expansion and military conquering as a state policy," he said in his speech.

    "Although hot-spot issues in China's neighbouring area keep cropping up recently, we have always held that conflicts and disputes should be properly solved through dialogues, consultations and peaceful negotiations."

    One delegate, however, said there appeared to be growing scepticism in the region over China's peaceful intentions, because it was inconsistent with moves to send naval patrols in waters where other countries have also staked claims.

    But Lt-Gen Qi said that in the past 30 years, almost all major countries - except China - were involved in conflicts or wars.

    "For close to 30 years, we have never used our armed forces to provoke wars or armed conflict," he said.

    China is locked in a territorial dispute with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

    China also has a dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea.