Xi says China will not seek hegemony in Southeast Asia

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said on Monday that his country will not seek hegemony in Southeast Asia or…

BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Monday that his country will not seek to dominate Southeast Asia or bully its smaller neighbors, amid ongoing friction over the South China Sea.

Xi made the remarks during a virtual conference with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of relations between China and the assembly.

Two diplomats said ASEAN member Myanmar was not represented at Monday’s meeting after its military-installed government refused to allow an ASEAN envoy to meet with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained politicians. Military Governor General Min Aung Hlaing was also prevented from representing his country at the recent ASEAN summit.

China has repeatedly sought to overcome concerns about its growing power and influence in the region, particularly its claim to almost the entire South China Sea that overlaps with those of ASEAN members Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.

“China resolutely opposes hegemony and power politics, is willing to maintain friendly relations with its neighbors and jointly promote lasting peace in the region and will never seek hegemony or even less, but bully the young,” Xi said, according to Xinhua. “. .

Xi’s remarks came days after Chinese coast guard ships blocked and sprayed a strong stream of water on two Philippine boats carrying supplies for troops in disputed shallow waters in the South China Sea, forcing them to turn back.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte highlighted the incident in his remarks at the conference, referring to the shoals by its Filipino name.

“We hate the recent event at Ayungin Shoal and view other similar developments with great concern. “This does not reflect well the relations between our two countries and our partnership,” Duterte said, according to a statement issued by his office.

Duterte also called on China to respect the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that establishes maritime entitlements and sovereign rights over maritime areas, along with an arbitration ruling in The Hague in 2016 that invalidated China’s claims in the South China Sea. China refused to recognize the ruling.

“We must make full use of these legal tools to ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of ​​peace, stability and prosperity,” Duterte said.

On Monday, the Philippines redeployed two supply boats to provide food for Marines stationed at Second Thomas Shoal aboard a World War II-era warship that deliberately ran aground in 1999 in a move to bolster the country’s claim. Chinese ships surrounded the shoals and the Philippines demanded the withdrawal of the BRP Sierra Madre.

In a daily briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated China’s position on the 2016 arbitration ruling and claimed that its “territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea are backed by sufficient historical and legal basis.”

“Any attempt to challenge China’s sovereignty and interests will not succeed,” Zhao told reporters. “At present, the situation in the relevant waters of the South China Sea is generally calm, and China and the Philippines maintain close contact.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaqoub Al-Bahr also raised in his speech at the conference, saying: “As a claimant country, Malaysia firmly believes that matters relating to the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully and constructively in accordance with the internationally recognized principles of law.”

“Malaysia calls on all countries to remain committed to maintaining the South China Sea as a sea of ​​peace, stability and trade,” his office quoted him as saying. To this end, all parties must exercise restraint and avoid actions that may be considered provocative, which could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the region.

China has sought to bolster its presence in the waterway, home to vital shipping routes, fish stocks and undersea oil and gas deposits, by building airstrips and other features on islands created by sand and concrete over coral reefs.

China’s powerful navies, coast guards, and naval militias have also sought to prevent moves by regional countries to exploit resources within their exclusive economic zones, and are vehemently opposed to operations by the United States and other foreign armies in the region. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been negotiating for years on a code of conduct to deal with matters in the South China Sea, but those talks have made little progress recently.

China remains an important market for Southeast Asian countries as well as a source of investment, and ASEAN has sought to avoid conflict with Beijing. China also enjoys strong ties with ASEAN members Cambodia and Laos and has refrained from criticizing Myanmar, where security forces are estimated to have killed nearly 1,200 civilians since the overthrow of Suu Kyi’s elected government in February. The government announced a low death toll.

China had hoped all 10 ASEAN members would join Monday’s meeting, but Brunei, which currently holds the group’s rotating presidency, objected to Myanmar’s presence, according to two diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An image from the video meeting showed just an empty box with Myanmar and ASEAN flags on it.

In other comments, Xi said peace is the “great common interest” of all parties and China will do its best to avoid conflict.

“We must be the makers and protection of regional peace, insist on dialogue instead of confrontation, partnership and impartiality, and join hands in dealing with various negative factors that threaten to undermine peace,” Xi said.

“We should practice true multilateralism and insist on handling international and regional affairs through negotiations,” Xi said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo emphasized the economic ties that have made China ASEAN’s largest trading partner over the past 12 years.

Widodo said trade grew from $8.36 billion in 1991 to more than $685.28 billion last year.

The Indonesian leader added that during the same period, cumulative two-way investment exceeded $310 billion, making China the fourth largest source of foreign direct investment among all ASEAN dialogue partners.

“Mutual trust can be achieved if we all respect international law,” Widodo said.

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Associated Press reporter Jim Gomez in Manila, the Philippines, and Ninik Carmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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