China hits out at US, Philippines over South China Sea, says 'doesn't fear trouble'

China says tensions in the South China Sea are intensifying due to interference from other countries trying to make political gains.
Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy of China, speaking at the IISS 15th Asia Security Summit on June 5.
Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy of China, speaking at the IISS 15th Asia Security Summit on June 5. PHOTO: EPA

SINGAPORE - A senior Chinese defence official on Sunday (June 5) slammed the United States for double standards and irresponsible behaviour on the South China Sea dispute and scolded the Philippines for taking the spat to an UN arbitration court, saying that China "does not fear trouble" when it comes to upholding its sovereignty.

"We do not make trouble but we have no fear of trouble," Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission, told some 600 delegates including defence ministers, scholars and business executives gathered in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue defence forum.

"China will not bear with the [UN] arbitration award nor allow any infringements of [its] sovereignty and security interests or stay indifferent to the irresponsible behaviour of some countries in or around the South China Sea," he added, without naming any country.

The US military has conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations in which it sends a ship or plane to pass by a Chinese-claimed island in the South China Sea as a way of showing it rejects Beijing's claims of sovereignty. 

Adm Sun's comments came a day after US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who is also participating in the three-day forum, urged China to join a "principled security network" in the Asia-Pacific region and stop erecting a "Great Wall of self-isolation" in the South China Sea.

Tension is rising over China's reclamation works on disputed reefs in the South China Sea. China claims some 80 per cent of the waterway, which hosts a vital global shipping route, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims. 

Manila has taken China's claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague but Beijing has said repeatedly it will not participate in the process nor recognise the ruling.

On Saturday, Mr Carter had signalled that the US will stand with the Philippines, its long-time ally, as well as Vietnam, with which Washington is reestablishing ties 40 years after the Vietnam War, to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

The US military has conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations in which the a ship or plane passed by a Chinese-claimed island in the South China Sea, much to Beijing's displeasure.

Adm Sun pointed a finger at "the provocation of certain countries", saying that "selfish interests" has led to 
the South China Sea issue becoming "overheated".

He said the Philippines has breached a bilateral agreement with China and violated provisions on territorial issues in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in its "unilateral" move to take Beijing to court.

"The arbitration is not applicable to the dispute...as the two countries have signed a bilateral agreement and made negotiations the only way to a solution in the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea," said Adm Sun.

He called for Asean to resolve the dispute through dialogue and cooperation, and warned the US and other countries not to intervene.

"China and Asean are capable of preserving peace and stability in the South China Sea through cooperation. Other countries should play a constructive role in this regard not the other way around," he said.

He also rejected Mr Carter's comment that China is isolating itself, saying that many of the Asian countries present at the Shangri-La Dialogue were “warmer” and “friendlier” to China than a year ago. China had 17 bilateral meetings this year, compared with 13 in 2015.

“We were not isolated in the past, we are not isolated now and we will not be isolated in the future,” Adm Sun said.

“Actually I am worried that some people and countries are still looking at China with the Cold War mentality and prejudice. They may build a wall in their minds and end up isolating themselves.”

But while Beijing is keen to downplay its differences with Asean over the South China Sea, the issue remains a contentious one within the 10-nation bloc. China reached a four-point consensus with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos on the South China Sea issue in April, in a development analysts say exposes fault lines in grouping.

Vietnam's deputy defence minister Nguyen Chi Vinh said in the same plenary session as Adm Sun on Sunday that Vietnam does not take sides in the dispute and called for the spat to be resolved in accordance with international laws such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as well as negotiation between Asean and China.

He warned that acts of "unilateralism and coercion" in the South China Sea may lead to militarisation of the region.

"This development, if not addressed, is likely to lead to armed races, rivalry and unpredictable and disastrous consequences," said Snr Lt-Gen Vinh.