China 'does not view its neighbours as enemies'

But it must respond effectively if a country provokes it, says top official

CHINA does not view any of its neighbours or other countries as enemies, but if a country provokes it and destabilises the region, Beijing must respond effectively to protect its territorial sovereignty and regional stability, a senior official has said.

Ms Fu Ying, spokesman for the national Parliament, was speaking to reporters yesterday when she made these remarks in a thinly veiled reference to Japan, with which China has a simmering territorial dispute.

She also emphasised her country's responsibility as a major global power to help secure peace and security in the region, amid increasing fears of a militarily assertive China.

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Speaking ahead of the opening of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's Parliament, today, Ms Fu also reiterated the key priority of deepening reforms led by President Xi Jinping and the NPC's commitment to providing the legal support needed.

On China's territorial disputes "with some countries", she said "we've always advocated peaceful means to resolve them".

"We can shelve disputes that cannot be resolved for now and consider the possibility of joint development," said the former vice- foreign minister.

"But if a country wants to provoke us and destroy this consensus and damage regional stability and order, China has to respond and do so effectively."

This is to protect China's territorial sovereignty and maintain regional order and peace, she said in response to a question on whether China's neighbours should worry about its rising defence budget, expected to grow further this year.

Besides Japan, China is also locked in territorial disputes with several Asean states and Taiwan in the South China Sea.

For the second year running, Ms Fu did not reveal China's defence spending for the new year, usually given ahead of the annual NPC meetings.

But she pledged that the NPC would provide a "legal guarantee" for the comprehensive reforms that Mr Xi had promised at a key policy summit of the Communist Party last November.

"Lawmakers will enact new laws, and modify or abolish existing laws in areas of great public concerns, so that the country's major reform efforts will have sufficient legal basis," she added.

She also gave a glimpse of how the national Parliament plans to do its job better as it marks its 60th anniversary this year, such as improving tax legislation, ridding local elections of corruption, and allowing citizens to sue the government more fearlessly.

China will take a "zero-tolerance" policy against corrupt legislators who accept bribes and rig polls, she said in reply to a question from The Straits Times regarding an electoral fraud case in the central Hunan province last December and Beijing's efforts to stamp out corruption.

"Regardless of who they are, or where the electoral fraud takes place, we will handle it resolutely. There should be no exceptions in tackling corruption or illegal behaviour," Ms Fu added.

The scandal in Hunan's Hengyang city led to 518 lawmakers in the city's 529-member legislature being dismissed, with at least seven reported to be facing legal charges so far.

Ms Fu also fielded questions ranging from environmental pollution to women's rights and relations with Hong Kong.

Proposed environmental protection levies, as well as a nation- wide property tax, are being considered by the Chinese government and updates will be provided in due time, she said.

China is also in the process of passing a revised environmental protection law, and hopes to include the public's feedback to make the law more effective.

Beijing has stepped up efforts for a more frugal meeting this year with delegates, for instance, barred from exchanging gifts. They will also not be served "expensive food, wine and beverages" at their buffet meals.