Chinese President Xi Jinping says his country will continue to claim sovereignty over disputed areas in the South China Sea, stressing, however, that Beijing does not seek to “bully” its neighbors over the issue.
“Let me make this clear: The South China Sea islands have been China’s territory since ancient times,” Xi said on Saturday, referring to a host of islands in the Sea to which China and a number of other regional countries lay claims.
The Chinese president, who was speaking at the National University of Singapore on the second leg of a trip to Southeast Asia, said however that, “What we in China believe… is that the strong and rich should not bully the weak and poor.”
Striking a ‘peace’-ful note
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The contested waters are believed to be rich in oil and gas.
The dispute has at times drawn in extra-territorial countries, particularly the United States, which have more often than not sided with China’s rivals.
In his Saturday remarks, Xi emphasized the need for a “peaceful” settlement of the dispute in the South China, saying, “Though some islets over which China has sovereignty have been occupied by others, China has always committed to solving the problem by peaceful negotiations.”
He also reaffirmed China’s commitment to work with “countries with a direct stake in the issue” to resolve the row based on “respect of historical facts, according to international laws and through discussions and negotiations.”
The Chinese president said Beijing is capable of maintaining the stability of the South China Sea area, adding that China welcomed “countries from outside the region” to have a “positive influence” on peace in the Asian continent.
He, however, emphasized that the Chinese government is responsible for maintaining “the sovereignty and proper, reasonable maritime rights” in the South China Sea, saying that freedom of passage in the disputed waters will never be a problem.
The US and a number of other countries, including Germany, had earlier voiced concerns over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea amid China’s territorial claims. The US recently sent a warship to the area, drawing the ire of Beijing, which, nevertheless, confined its dissatisfaction with what it said was an “illegal” entry into the area to verbal forms.
At the end of a visit to Vietnam on Friday, Xi said that Beijing and Hanoi have decided not to engage in any acts that “complicate” the tensions in the South China Sea.