Chinese President Xi Jinping told a gathering of Asean leaders that his nation will avoid dominating the region, a pledge that comes as Beijing is involved in disputes with bloc members over its broad claims in the South China Sea.
“China firmly opposes hegemony and power politics,” Xi told a virtual gathering to mark three decades of ties between Asean and his country, official Xinhua News Agency reported.
He added that Beijing wants to get along with its neighbours and work to maintain lasting peace in the region. China will “never seek hegemony, let alone bullying the small nations as a big country,” Xi said, in comments that echo a veiled swipe he took at the US last year.
Yet China’s expansive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea have put it at odds with neighbours including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Last week, the Philippines accused China of firing water cannons to prevent its boats from resupplying a South China Sea outpost.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter Thursday that he had conveyed “our outrage, condemnation and protest” to Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over the incident. Locsin said three Chinese coast guard vessels had blocked two Philippine boats trying to transport food to soldiers stationed on Second Thomas Shoal, also known as the Ayungin Shoal.
Last month, the Philippines and Malaysia complained about incursions by Chinese vessels in areas of the South China Sea they claim as their own. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah warned last month that his country could see more Chinese ships in its maritime territory while state-owned Petronas developed the Kasawari gas field in its exclusive economic zone off Sarawak.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told Asean leaders and Xi via video Monday that issues “relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and constructively in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.” He was referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea agreement that serves as a legal framework for maritime activities.