China says committed to 'friendly' talks on maritime disputes

Celia Cazale - Agence France-Presse
China says committed to 'friendly' talks on maritime disputes
Vice chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People's Republic of China Zhang Youxia salutes before delivering his speech during the opening ceremony of the 19th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, China's Shandong province on April 22, 2024.
AFP / Wang Zhao

QINGDAO, China — A senior Chinese defense official said Monday that Beijing sought to resolve maritime disputes through "friendly consultation", speaking at the formal opening of a naval forum attended by top brass from the United States and Russia.

Navy representatives from 29 countries including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India and Australia are expected to attend the four-day Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao, on China's east coast.

They will discuss maritime peace and security, global maritime governance and relevant international laws, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party's Central Military Commission, called for parties to "work together to create peace and tranquillity".

"China is consistently committed to resolving maritime disputes through friendly consultation directly with the countries party to them," Zhang said.

"But we will not permit arbitrary abuses, nor accept distortions of international law," he warned.

"We will legitimately uphold our rights in response to deliberate violations and resolutely take reasonable countermeasures in response to groundless provocations," Zhang said.

Washington and other capitals have chided China for its assertive behaviour around self-ruled Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing and regularly detects large numbers of Chinese ships and aircraft deployed around its territory.

Beijing has also had repeated confrontations with US ally the Philippines around disputed reefs in the South China Sea -- a vital waterway China claims almost in its entirety despite an international court ruling that its claims are invalid.

Thousands of Filipino and American troops kicked off joint military exercises on Monday concentrated in the north and west of the archipelago nation, near both the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Among the officials at the opening ceremony on Monday was Russia's recently-appointed navy chief Alexander Moiseyev, as well as the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Stephen Koehler.

During a Sunday media tour, Chinese navy personnel in white uniforms held marches and signalling exercises with red and yellow flags at a submarine academy.

Sailors also navigated chain-link fencing, monkeybars, hanging rubber tyres and other obstacles as part of a training demonstration.

Qingdao is a major Chinese navy port, and a sleek grey destroyer, a supply ship and a submarine rescue vessel held open days on Sunday ahead of the navy's 75th anniversary.

In addition to the tensions in the Pacific, the symposium takes place in the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- now well into its third year.

Beijing maintains that it is a neutral party in the conflict but Western governments have argued that it has tacitly given Moscow diplomatic, political and economic backing.

However, the United States and China have also recently stepped-up military-to-military communications in a bid to reduce tensions.

This month, the two countries' defense chiefs held their first substantive talks in nearly 18 months, with Beijing calling for greater "trust" between the powers.

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