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Xiangshan Forum debates South China Sea

( Source: Global Times  )         2015-October-19 14:10

  Officials, experts dismiss claims of island militarization

  Chinese officials and experts dismissed Western accusations that China has been militarizing some islands in the South China Sea at the Xiangshan Forum over the weekend, as delegates called for stronger cooperation and to continue seeking solutions to the maritime disputes.

  "There is no militarization of the islands [in the South China Sea]. Judging from the current situation, China does not build military facilities on the islands. Nor have we converted them for military use," Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, told the sixth Xiangshan Forum on Sunday.

  The forum is an annual defense conference organized by the China Association for Military Science and the China International Institute for Strategic Society. This year's forum was held from Friday to Sunday, attended by over 500 delegates from 49 countries.

  Yan's statement comes following accusations from Western security experts who claimed that China's construction activities on some South China Sea islands raise questions on militarization and demanded that China clarify such issues.

  "It is widely recognized that China holds historical rights in the South China Sea as it is the first nation to work on the islands, and China has not resorted to force by taking back islands occupied by some neighboring countries," Wu Jianmin, moderator of Sunday's session, who is also a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Group of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told the forum.

  "We reclaimed land on our own territory - what others have been doing for a long time," Wu said.

  He also said that it is necessary for China to play a role in the South China Sea, given that the country is heavily dependent on foreign trade, which mainly travels through the region.

  In an interview with Reuters, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that some of those islands and reefs have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

  "They were left to us by our ancestors. The Chinese people will not allow anyone to infringe on China's sovereignty and related rights and interests," Xi said, adding that Chinese actions in the South China Sea are legitimate reactions to safeguard its territorial sovereignty.

  Upholding negotiations

  Tensions over the South China Sea have been rising, especially after reports from The New York Times and Reuters said the US was planning to conduct patrols in the waters, which could come as close as 12 nautical miles from the Chinese islands.

  US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also said last week that the US would sail and fly wherever international law allows, including the South China Sea.

  Addressing the forum on Saturday, Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, said that China will never recklessly resort to the use of force, "even on issues bearing upon sovereignty," and that the country has done its utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts.

  China has always upheld the policy of not resorting to force to deal with traditional threats, and would solve disputes through negotiations under international law, but it does not mean that China will give up on its territory and sovereignty rights, Li Wei, director of the Center of Counterterrorism Study at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

  The Malaysian Chief of Defense Forces, General Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin, told the forum that a resolution to the South China Sea issues should not be jeopardized by any provocative action, and related countries should not violate the agreed consensus.

  Other regional concerns

  Speaking at the forum which focused on security cooperation, senior military officials from a dozen or so countries agreed that the Asia-Pacific region faces threats ranging from piracy and smuggling to natural disasters and terrorism, and that a cooperative community is required to deal with these threats.

  Li said that international society should urgently work together on cyberspace, as the Internet now plays an unprecedentedly important role in the spread of terrorism and extremism, which can help incite and recruit new members.

  Addressing the forum, Yan proposed that cooperation should be carried out between nations with limited mutual trust.

  "The biggest threat to Asia-Pacific maritime security is that related countries are reluctant to work together at a lower level and are aiming too high for a result ... We should cooperate to prevent conflicts," Yan added.

Editor :  Yao Jianing