Dialogue key to stability on the high seas, say defence officials at security forum in China

Military delegates at the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, on Oct 25, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Dialogue and communication are the key to ensuring stability on the high seas, defence officials from China and the Philippines said on Friday (Oct 26) at a security conference in Beijing.

Their comments come at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China.

In recent weeks, the US, which is also embroiled in a trade war with China, has sparked anger in Beijing when it flew B-52 bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea, and sailed a navy destroyer on "freedom of navigation" missions through those waters.

On Friday, Vice-Admiral Liu Yi, deputy commander of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy said at a plenary session on maritime security cooperation at the Xiangshan Forum that it was important to have mutual respect, especially in times of emergency.

"It is more important to respect each other and conduct more active consultations for only in this way can (international treaties) be followed in good faith, and only by mutual respect can we have good interaction in times of emergency," said Vice-Admiral Liu, explaining China's position on maritime security. He was referring to treaties like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

His comments come a day after Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe told the same forum that the islands in the South China Sea were "the legacy of our ancestors and we can't afford to lose a single inch of them".

Last month (Sept 30), the US Navy destroyer Decatur sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea, causing a Chinese warship to try to force it away. The two ships nearly collided.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, but this is disputed by several Asean countries - the Philippines, Vietname, Malaysia and Brunei - as well as Taiwan.

More than 500 representatives from 67 countries and seven organisations attended the annual forum on security, which ended on Friday.

Before it came to a close, Mr Cesar Yano, the Philippines' undersecretary for defence operations, reaffirmed his country's view on the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight. But he also said there was a need for "self-restraint" and to avoid actions that may complicate the situation.

Mr Yano was asked by a research fellow from the Academy of Military Science, a research institute under the PLA, for the Philippines' view on "intervention by external regional powers" in the South China Sea, which has led to increased tensions.

Mr Yano replied that there was a need for continued dialogue, and agreed with Vice-Admiral Liu that the security of one country should not come at the expense of others.

"There is really a need for the countries in the region and other major powers to continue talking and discussing, this is the view of the Philippines," he said.

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