China: We won’t fire first shot

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
China: We won�t fire first shot
Zhao said Beijing adheres to the policy of peacefully resolving disputes with its neighbors, especially over the South China Sea.
KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — China will “not take the first shot” and will only use its armed forces for defense, its top diplomat in Manila said on Monday.

“China adopts a military strategy of active defense, which adheres to the principle of defense, self-defense and post-strike response. Meaning we will not take the first shot,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said at a dinner reception in Makati for the 92nd anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Zhao said Beijing adheres to the policy of peacefully resolving disputes with its neighbors, especially over the South China Sea.

China is embroiled in disputes with its smaller neighbors – including the Philippines – over parts of the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely as its own.

“China will never seek hegemony or never establish spheres of influence” no matter how strong it becomes, Zhao stressed.

Zhao said China’s military is chiefly for self-defense and for ensuring that the Chinese are in favorable environment – always ready to respond to disasters and conflicts.

“China enhances national defense in order to meet the needs to defend our own security as well as contribute to world peace and stability,” he added.

Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, Zhao said the PLA played a major role in securing
 independence for China and in defending its sovereignty, security and development interest.

The ambassador noted that China is the largest troop contributor to foreign missions among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. China has participated in 24 UN peacekeeping missions and dispatched more than 39,000 peacekeepers.

The Chinese Navy, he said, began escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia in December 2008. 

“Until now, it has escorted more than 6,600 vessels and rescued over 70 ships in danger,” Zhao said. “More than half of the escorted ships are foreign ships, including Filipino vessels and seamen.”

The US Department of Defense, in its latest annual report on military and security developments in China, said Beijing is prepared to employ coercive measures – both military and nonmilitary – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries, as the Asian giant aims for a “world-class” military by 2049. 

Zhao also said China would like the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) finalized while the Philippines is still the Country Coordinator of ASEAN-China relations.

“And this is what President Duterte would like to see happen,” Zhao said.

Although the deadline set is within three years, he said China and countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to finalize the COC as early as possible.

Manila and Beijing held last week in Manila their fifth China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) meeting on the South China Sea. 

As Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China, the Philippines reaffirmed during the meeting its commitment to work closely with ASEAN member-states and China in threshing out ways to promote peace and prosperity in the region as well as sustaining the progress of negotiations for an effective and substantive COC.

Zhao asked South China Sea claimants for “patience” in discussing their differences but emphasized issues should be settled only through bilateral negotiation and consultation.

“The South China Sea issue is not something we have today. It’s being part of history,” Zhao said. “Despite the differences we have, we are ready to discuss with claimants over the differences we have. We always believe law is much better than confrontation.”

Over the past four or five decades, he said China has always adhered to the policy of peaceful settlement.

“It’s not easy to settle. It cannot be settled overnight. So we should be patient. We will need to put our differences in proper context,” Zhao said. “We cannot let the one percent differences hold the whole 99 percent of friendship and cooperation as hostage. This is what I call the realistic and pragmatic approach.”

The ambassador stressed that China is the last country that would like to see freedom of navigation in the South China Sea impeded or disrupted.

“It goes without saying if South China Sea’s freedom of navigation is disrupted or even blocked by someone, we don’t need too much imagination to conclude that China is going to be somewhat bad,” he said, adding oil and gas are the lifeblood for economic and social growth.

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