Chinese general refutes US Defence Secretary's remarks, says China upholds international and regional order

China's People's Liberation Army Vice President of Academy of Military Science, He Lei, attends the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3, 2017.
China's People's Liberation Army Vice President of Academy of Military Science, He Lei, attends the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - China has responded to US Defence Secretary James Mattis' accusation that the Asian power disregards international order, saying that, to the contrary, it 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 agreements and over 400 multilateral agreements, Lieutenant-General He Lei said: "China can be said to be following, 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 navy ships to waters and military jets to airspace 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 on Saturday (June 3).

While he did not name the country, the US has been conducting freedom of navigation and overflight operations using its 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 said at a plenary session on Saturday morning that the US cannot accept China's actions that undermine the rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region.

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 of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 between China and Asean, and the two sides' recent conclusion of a framework on a Code of Conduct to manage disputes in the waters.

China has overlapping territorial claims with four Asean countries in the South China Sea which have escalated tensions in the region in recent years.

Lt-Gen He also took issue with Mr Mattis' comments on US relations with Taiwan in accordance with the US' Taiwan Relations Act, which spells out that the US would assist Taiwan in its defence, including the sale of arms to the island.

He said Mr Mattis should also have mentioned the three communiques between Washington and Beijing in which the US acknowledged that there is one China in the world and that Taiwan belongs to that one China and agreed to scale down arms sales to Taiwan, seen by China as a breakaway province.

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

He pointed out that as the world's great powers, the Sino-US relationship affects the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and of the world.

He added that China greatly values the bilateral relationship.

So long as the two sides adhered to the principles of non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect and win-win, and strengthened mutual trust as well as crisis and risk control, there was much room for cooperation.