Shangri-La Dialogue

China says it supports international, regional order

Senior Chinese officer refutes US Defence Secretary's remarks

China said that contrary to US Defence Secretary James Mattis' accusation that it disregards international order, the Asian power is an upholder and supporter of the international and regional order.

Citing China's signing up to the United Nations charter and its more than 23,000 bilateral and over 400 multilateral agreements, Lieutenant-General He Lei said: "China can be said to be observing, supporting and safeguarding the international and regional order."

Lt-Gen He, who heads the Chinese delegation to this year's Shangri-La Dialogue, instead countered that sending military jets and ships to airspace and waters close to China's islands to conduct surveillance and military activities was not within the scope of the principle of freedom of navigation.

"The Chinese government and people are resolutely opposed to it," he said at a press conference yesterday after Mr Mattis' speech at the opening plenary session.

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While Lt-Gen He did not name the country, the US has been conducting freedom of navigation and overflight operations using military ships and aircraft, including one late last month, in waters close to Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea, to challenge what it sees as China's excessive maritime claims.

Mr Mattis had said at the session that the US cannot accept China's actions that undermine the rules- based order in the Asia-Pacific region, including its artificial island construction and militarisation of facilities on features in international waters in the South China Sea in disregard for international law.

Lt-Gen He said a regional order should be one that represents the interests of the majority of countries in the region. He gave as an example the signing of a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea between China and Asean in 2002, and the two sides' conclusion last month of a framework on a Code of Conduct to manage disputes in the waters.

China has overlapping territorial claims with four Asean states in the South China Sea that have led to tensions in the region in recent years.

Lt-Gen He also took issue with Mr Mattis' comments on US relations with Taiwan, who had said Washington would provide arms to the island in accordance with the US' Taiwan Relations Act. The 1979 Act states that the US would assist the island in its defence against military threats from the mainland.

He said Mr Mattis should also have mentioned the three communiques between the US and China. Among other things in the communiques, the US acknowledges that there is one China in the world and that Taiwan belongs to that one China and agrees to scale down its sale of arms to Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province.

"The Chinese government resolutely opposes the sale of arms to Taiwan and official contact with Taiwan," he said.

However, he lauded Mr Mattis' remark that the administration of President Donald Trump has not changed the US' one China policy.

On the North Korean nuclear issue, Lt-Gen He noted that the root of it was the strategic mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang, but he also said it affected China's interest and that Beijing was making proactive efforts on this matter.

Lt-Gen He's remarks yesterday were in the main conciliatory.

He pointed out that China and the US are the world's great powers and that their relationship affects the security and stability of the Asia- Pacific region and the world.

He added that China greatly values the Sino-US relationship.

So long as the two sides adhered to the principles of no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win, and strengthened mutual trust as well as crisis and risk control, there was much room for cooperation, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'China says it supports international, regional order'. Print Edition | Subscribe