Freedom of navigation: China navy chief takes dig at US

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

The US has frequently sent warships near Chinese-occupied features in the disputed waters, 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 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.

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.

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 has sent only a low-level delegation to the Chinese navy anniversary events.

"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 China is continuing to advance talks on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing has been holding 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 but giving no details.

The Chinese 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, as well as 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'Freedom of navigation: China navy chief takes dig at US'. Print Edition | Subscribe