China hosts Asia security forum with wary neighbours

SHANGHAI (AFP) - China hosts a little-known Asian regional forum on security on Wednesday keen to raise the event's profile and show willingness to work with neighbours, despite recent disputes over maritime territory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will present his vision of foreign policy, government officials say, a year into his term which has seen Beijing look to assert its interests in both continental Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

He will address the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a relatively obscure forum which exists alongside other stronger regional groupings.

The presidents attending include Russia's Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai.

"Everyone is a bit surprised it's being made such a big deal. It seems principally driven by the Chinese who are very keen for it to be a big event," said Raffaello Pantucci, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

"It's more about China trying to build their regional relationships," he said.

But China has alienated some of its Asian neighbours, even while seeking to counter the US "pivot" to the region.

Relations between China and Vietnam have worsened after Beijing's move earlier this month to send a deep-water oil drilling rig into contested waters in the South China Sea, sparking violent Vietnamese protests in which two Chinese were killed.

China and Japan have a long-running feud over disputed islands in the East China Sea, while the Philippines accuses China of reclaiming land on a disputed reef within its exclusive economic zone under a United Nations (UN) convention.

Vietnam belongs to the forum, but Japan is only an observer while the Philippines is not a member. The United States also has observer status, preferring to work through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

China's official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday urged countries from outside Asia not to foment tensions.

"Players from other parts of the world need to play a constructive role. They should refrain from starting fires and stoking flames," it said in an editorial.

But Southeast Asian leaders earlier this month expressed "serious concern" over worsening territorial disputes in the South China Sea, presenting a rare united front against Beijing.

The 10-nation Asean called for a peaceful resolution to the maritime rows after a summit.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who is in China to attend the CICA meeting, said countries should seek to avoid conflict.

"There (are) many issues: historical legacy issues, territorial issues, maritime disputes," he told Xinhua in an interview published Tuesday.

"The main agenda of this CICA summit is to promote some preventive actions, avoiding unnecessary conflict."

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