China navy chief takes dig at US freedom of navigation patrols

China's navy chief Shen Jinlong said everyone needed to follow the rules and "safeguard good order".
China's navy chief Shen Jinlong said everyone needed to follow the rules and "safeguard good order".PHOTO: REUTERS

QINGDAO, CHINA (REUTERS) - Freedom of navigation should not be used to infringe upon the rights of other countries, China's navy chief Shen Jinlong said on Wednesday (April 24), taking a dig at the United States and its allies who have sailed close to disputed South China Sea islets.

Speaking at a forum in the eastern city of Qingdao, following a major naval parade marking 70 years since the founding of the Chinese navy, Vice-Admiral Shen said everyone needed to follow the rules and "safeguard good order".

"Respect for the rules is the cornerstone of maritime good order," said Vice-Adm Shen, who is close to President Xi Jinping.

"Freedom of navigation is a concept widely recognised by the international community. However, it should not be used as an excuse to infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of littoral states," he added, without naming the US directly.

The US has frequently sent warships near to Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea, where China has been reclaiming land for runways and ports. Some US allies, including Britain, have followed suit.

China regards the patrols by the US and its allies as a provocation, as it views almost all of the South China Sea as its territory, although Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims.

The US has sent only a low level delegation to the Chinese navy anniversary events. And unlike its close allies Australia, Japan and South Korea, the US did not send a ship to take part in Tuesday's naval parade reviewed by Mr Xi himself.

 
 

"The US government seeks a bilateral relationship that is results-oriented and focused on risk reduction," Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said in comments sent to Reuters, responding to a question on US participation at the event.

"The US Navy will continue to pursue its primary goal of constructive, risk-reduction focused discourse with the PLAN," he said, referring to the People's Liberation Army Navy.

Vice-Adm Shen said that China was continuing to advance talks on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing has been having with South-east Asian states for the past few years.

"We are committed to making the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation," he added, speaking to an audience of both senior Chinese and foreign navy officers, but without giving details.

The navy has been a key beneficiary of Mr Xi's ambitious military modernisation plan, which has seen China develop aircraft carriers, advanced new warships and nuclear submarines, and stealth jets for the air force.

"We adhere to non-conflict and non-confrontation and strive to be a stabiliser for maritime peace," Vice-Adm Shen said.