Scaling down its rhetoric on the South China Sea dispute amid growing tensions with the US, China today said it will not use force “recklessly” for resolving disputes and proposed joint defence drills with ASEAN countries to brace for unplanned and accidental military encounters at sea.
China always insists on resolving divergence and disputes through friendly negotiations with parties directly concerned and will try utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) Fan Changlong said. CMC is the overall commanding body of the Chinese military. It is headed by President Xi Jinping.
“China has always advocated handling disputes by peaceful manners and will not use force recklessly even if it comes to issues related to territory and sovereignty,” state run Xinhua news agency quoted Fan, one of the high ranking military officials, as saying while addressing the sixth Xiangshan Forum, a security forum modelled on Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue.
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Fan said China has settled land and border issues with a majority of neighbouring countries through consultation. China has settled border disputes with 12 of its 14 neighbours except India and Bhutan. He also defended the construction of lighthouses as well as other infrastructure in the disputed islands in South China Sea (SCS) which intensified tensions in the region.
The infrastructure serves mostly civilian purposes, which not only improves the marine navigation but provides more public services, he said. China claims sovereignty on almost all of the South China Sea which is firmly opposed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The five countries are backed by US in staking their claims countering that of China.
The forum is organised annually by Chinese military to step up interaction among the defence officials and establishments of different countries. Indian defence officials have also been invited to take part in it. With tensions escalating over the SCS this year China has invited the defence ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which most of stakeholders of the SCS dispute are members.
During a separate meeting with the ASEAN Defence Ministers yesterday, Xu Qiliang, another vice chairman of the CMC proposed that the stakeholders of the SCS dispute should jointly and properly deal with disputes, manage and control risks without the involvement of the outsiders. He said China is willing to hold the Joint Training on Code for Unalerted Encounters at Sea (CUES) and the Maritime Search and Rescue and Disaster Relief Joint Exercise together with ASEAN countries in 2016, in a bid to cope with the common risks and challenges.
To better implement the code, the navies of China and the US drilled together in the eastern Pacific last year.