Top Chinese military commander pledges to retaliate against ‘unjust provocation’ over maritime disputes

Top Chinese military commander pledges to retaliate against ‘unjust provocation’ over maritime disputes

A top commander from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has pledged to take “firm countermeasures” against “unjust provocation” over maritime disputes amid elevated tensions in the South China Sea.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 19th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in the port city of Qingdao, General Zhang Youxia, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, called for abandoning the “cold war mentality” and bridging differences through dialogue.

“China has been committed to resolving maritime disputes peacefully through friendly consultation with countries directly concerned, but it will safeguard its legitimate rights in the face of deliberate violation of its sovereignty and it will take firm countermeasures against unreasonable provocations,” Zhang was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.

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“We will not stir up trouble but will never be afraid of trouble, and the Chinese military will resolutely defend the unity of the country and national interests,” he added.

The forum took place against a backdrop of intensified clashes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, where they have overlapping territorial disputes. Tensions are also running high in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.

Delegates pose for a group photo before the opening ceremony of the 19th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao on Monday. Photo: AFP

The regional event, held in China for the second time since it was established in 1988, was attended by naval personnel from 29 countries. However, no navy representatives from the Philippines, which is a member state, were at this year’s forum.

Liang Wei, a senior officer with China’s Naval Research Academy, said that all member countries and observer states had been invited, adding it was not clear why the Philippines did not attend the four-day event, according to state media.

Representatives from the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, France, the UK, Cambodia, Chile, India, Indonesia and Pakistan were among those at the event.

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This week’s event, themed “Oceans with a Shared Future”, is the 19th edition of the biennial meeting, and comes amid rising concerns over maritime safety risks and challenges in the region. China last hosted the forum in 2014.

Zhang said that China’s armed forces had been “continuously deepening exchanges with other countries’ navies” and “actively taking part in international cooperation on maritime security”.

China will also “engage in international military cooperation in a more active and open manner”, he said.

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Talks between the US and Chinese navy chiefs were expected following the resumption of military-to-military communication between the two countries. The commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Stephen Koehler, is leading the American delegation to the event.

Also on Monday, the US and the Philippines started their largest-ever annual Balikatan “shoulder to shoulder” drills in the South China Sea. For the first time, the French navy is also taking part in the exercises, which will run until May 10, and also include Australia’s navy.

This year’s forum coincides with the 75th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy, which is holding public commemorative events until Wednesday. The events are being staged in major naval ports including Qingdao, Dalian, Yantai, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang, Haikou and Sanya.



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