China is defender of peace; South China Sea issue hyped up, say experts and officials

SINGAPORE - China has always been a defender of world peace and the South China Sea issue has been sensationalised to a certain extent by some nations in and outside of the region, experts and officials said.

Huang Jing, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore, said there have been many crises since the Cold War, such as Libya, Egypt, Kosovo and Ukraine, and many issues have also been seen across Asia, including the Korean nuclear issue and the territorial disputes in East China Sea and South China Sea.

"However, one important fact is, all the crises with Western involvement ended up in war without any exception," Huang told Xinhua news agency on Friday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue. "China is the defender of world peace, not a trouble-maker."

Xinhua quoted Huang as saying that the most effective solution is through negotiations among claimant states, and any attempt to introduce outside forces will only complicate it.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said in his keynote speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue on Saturday that his country will continue to fly, sail and operate in the region wherever international law allows, and called for an "immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants."

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of China's National Defence Ministry, dismissed Carter's views on the South China Sea as "incomplete and lack of jurisprudential evidence", Xinhua reported.

"Freedom of navigation should be for the benefits of economic development, rather than sending military aircraft and vessels everywhere," Guan was quoted as saying.

He said that China has been exercising restraint over the South China Sea issue, hoping Washington should treat the issue in a more objective way.

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"The South China Sea issue has been there for decades. Why it was not a big issue previously, but has been one now?" he asked.

"In some sense, the South China Sea issue was sensationalised on purpose...It's because China has become stronger,'' Huang said.

"A long period after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China's foreign policy was to safeguard its own land. However, it now has the ability to defend its own rights in the South China Sea."

Last week, the Chinese military ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft to leave an area above the heavily disputed Spratly Islands, but the US plane ignored the demand.

"There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as US forces do all around the world," AFP quoted Carter as saying in Singapore.

"After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit."

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves.