China criticises 'a few countries' of disrupting regional cooperation

China has criticised "a few countries" of disrupting regional cooperation by "playing up tensions and involving external parties in the region", as it hosted the first-ever informal summit of South-east Asian defence ministers, which is aimed at boosting mutual trust with the 10-member Asean grouping.

Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan, who did not name the countries in his remarks at the China-Asean Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting on Friday morning (Oct 16), also said Beijing has proposed a comprehensive cooperation approach and an "Asian security concept" for maintaining regional stability in light of the complicated security landscape.

China's approach involves establishing a defence and security framework with Asean, holding regular meetings between China and Asean defence ministers and personnel, and posting of Chinese security liaison officers to the Asean secretariat in Jakarta, said General Chang.

"Our biggest common benefit for the region lies in speeding up development. Our biggest common desire is in strengthening cooperation. Our biggest common need is in maintaining stability," he said at the meeting held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the western part of Beijing. The media could only attend less than 10 minutes of the meeting.

The Asian security concept, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, features a call for Asian countries to be solely in charge of regional security, with no need for external parties like the United States and military alliances like those between Washington and Tokyo.

China-Asean relations have come under strain in recent years amid efforts by China and several Asean states - Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia - in asserting their overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

Tensions have also brewed as Beijing and Washington continue to lock horns over freedom of navigation and overflight in the South-east Asian maritime hub following China's land reclamation and construction activities in the past year that have turned reefs into islands capable of hosting military facilities like runways

China had proposed the informal defence meeting in Oct 2013, following a similar idea from the United States earlier that year. The US-Asean informal defence ministers' meeting took place in Hawaii in April last year.

Asean defence officials already meet regularly with counterparts from dialogue partners such as China, Japan and the US, and hold joint exercises under the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus banner.

But analysts say China believes hosting the informal defence meet would improve its public image and also boost mutual trust in the region amid the regional tensions.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is attending the two-day informal meeting, which began with a reception on Thursday night and is expected to end by Friday noon.

Dr Ng is also attending the three-day Xiangshan Forum which begins on Friday. It is a regional security dialogue billed as China's version of the Shangri-La Dialogue held yearly in Singapore.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg