BOAO, China—Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged Asian “frictions” and “hot spots” in an address on Sunday to regional business and political leaders amid mounting alarm over North Korea’s nuclear threat and territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.
Mr. Xi didn’t single out any country in his address at the three-day Boao Forum for Asia, which began Saturday. While he signaled concern over regional security, his language appeared to be deliberately ambiguous.
“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” he said in an opening speech to the forum.
The U.S. is putting pressure on China to rein in its close ally North Korea, which relies on China for its food and fuel but is testing Beijing’s patience by aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons and missile programs. The U.S. is responding to North Korea’s actions and bellicose rhetoric by beefing up its missile defenses and flying bombers to South Korea in a display of support for its Asian ally.
Still, there was no clear evidence that Mr. Xi had North Korea in mind in a wide-ranging speech that sought to establish the tone of his new administration’s relationship with countries in the region that are reliant on China for their prosperity but wary of its military ambitions.
China often levels accusations at the U.S. for what it considers to be Washington’s own destabilizing behavior, in particular the U.S. strategic “pivot” to Asia now that it is disentangling itself from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. China sees the pivot as part of a broader U.S. conspiracy to contain its strategic rise in the world and put down a potential economic challenger.
At one point, Mr. Xi warned that the world shouldn’t become “an arena where gladiators fight each other.”
“Rather than undercutting each other’s efforts, countries should complement each other and work for joint progress,” he said.
Analysts say that China is conflicted in its approach to North Korea. Pyongyang’s new leader, Kim Jong Eun, has clearly offended China with his nuclear saber rattling, and Beijing has signed up to new economic sanctions designed to squeeze Mr. Kim and the North Korean elite. Yet many analysts believe China will never abandon a country that provides a buffer against U.S. forces in South Korea.
Mr. Xi was followed on the podium by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said she welcomed “the growing cooperation of all regional governments to prevent conflict on the Korean peninsula and to counter North Korean aggression.”
On the Korean peninsula “any aggression is a threat to the interests of every country in the region,” she said.
Mr. Xi completed his rise to power by taking over the presidency at the National People’s Congress in March. His speech to the forum was closely watched for hints at how he intends to develop relations with a region anxious about Beijing’s increasingly assertive diplomacy. Relations with Japan and much of Southeast Asia have been tested by conflicting territorial claims.
Mr. Xi echoed the major theme of previous administrations that China’s economic rise will be peaceful, and that it seeks dialogue with its neighbors in the world’s fastest-growing economic region. But he offered no suggestion of softer diplomacy.
“China will continue to properly handle differences and frictions with some countries,” he said. But he insisted that China would defend its “sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.” China’s expansive claims to sovereignty cover the entire South China Sea and its rich energy, mineral and fishery resources.
In contrast to his staid predecessor, Hu Jintao, Mr. Xi’s language was colorful and direct.
“Peace, like air and sunshine, is hardly noticed when people are benefiting from it. But none of us can live without them,” he said.
Friction between countries is inevitable, he said. “What is important is that they should resolve differences through dialogue, consultation and peaceful negotiations in the larger interest of the sound growth of their relations,” he said.
On the economy, Mr. Xi stressed the benefits to the region of a country that is taking in imports, investing overseas and sending abroad tens of millions of tourists who spend lavishly on luxury goods and services.
The global economy is “fraught with risks” and Asia faces a “bumpy and twisting” road ahead, Mr. Xi said. He said China is shifting its growth model to rely more on consumption, a transition that some economists believe will be hard to pull off and may even stall the country’s advance.
But while conceding that China “faces many difficulties and challenges,” Mr. Xi asserted that “we have full confidence in China’s future.”
Woody Island cruises to start in Hainan this month amid sea disputes
Hainan opens islet in disputed Paracel chain to tourists, but they must sleep and eat aboard ship; workers rush to complete facilities onshore
The Hainan provincial government will begin sightseeing cruises to China’s newest city, Sansha on tiny Woody Island, this month, a deputy governor of the province said yesterday.
But cruise-goers would have to eat and sleep on board the ship rather than stay overnight on the island – which has a permanent population of roughly 1,000, including military personnel – Tan Li said.
Authorities had already chosen scenic spots and routes for the vessels, Tan said.
A single cruise ship would serve the route to Woody Island, which lies about 300 kilometres southeast of Hainan, he added. But he did not say how often it would visit the island, which China calls Yongxing Island and which is part of the disputed Paracels chain.
Tan was speaking at a Hainan government news conference in Boao on the sidelines of the annual Boao Forum for Asia, which opened yesterday.
Woody Island has a small airstrip and port, and a weather station. The first phase of a new wharf on the island had begun trial operations, Tan said, and workers were rushing to complete 12 other projects including a supply ship berth, water supply system and sewage treatment plant.
Tourism, as well as oil and gas exploration, have been slated as major industries for Sansha.
In addition to being China’s newest prefecture, Sansha has the smallest population and land area, but the largest area overall.
The city, which is part of Hainan province, was established last summer as the administrative hub for two million square kilometres of the South China Sea.
Included in that area are the disputed Paracel and Spratly island chains and the undersea atoll Macclesfield Bank, known to China as, respectively, the Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha islands. They are claimed in part by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In the past eight months, China had “intensified protection of its maritime rights” in the South China Sea, Tan said. Fisheries administration and maritime surveillance vessels had conducted more than 50 patrols in the region, covering a total of 7,000 nautical miles.
“[They] punished seven domestic trawlers for illegal fishing and drove away nearly 20 foreign fishing vessels,” he said.
Meanwhile, a village committee had been established on Mischief Reef (known to China as Meiji Reef) in the Spratly Islands, marking the inception of the first grass-roots regime on the island.
Office buildings and living quarters for village committees were planned for Woody Island as well as the Qilian group, also in the Paracels.
According to Tan, the Sansha government had fewer staff than normal prefecture-level governments, and “super departments” had been established to save manpower. “Staff rotate to work on Yongxing,” he said.
China to let tourists visit disputed South China Sea islets
BEIJING (Reuters) – China will this month start allowing tourists to visit the Paracel Islands, one of a group of disputed islets and reefs in the South China Sea, state news agency Xinhua said, a move likely to irk rival claimant Vietnam.
A cruise ship that can accommodate 1,965 passengers is ready for sailing to the Paracels, known in Chinese as Xisha, Xinhua reported, citing ship owner Haihang Group Corp.
Hainan Harbour and Shipping Holdings Co is building another cruise ship.
“Tourists will eat and sleep on the cruise ships and can land on the islands for sightseeing” ahead of Labor Day on May 1, Tan Li, vice governor of China’s southernmost island province of Hainan, told Xinhua late on Saturday.
There is only one hotel with 56 rooms on the two-sq-km Woody Island, the largest island in the Paracels, the agency said.
“Prices will be relatively high due to the high costs of tourism infrastructure construction,” Huang Huaru, general manager of a tourism agency in Hainan, told Xinhua.
Last year, China approved the formal establishment of a military garrison in Sansha city, which is located on Woody Island. The city administers the mostly uninhabited islands in the South China Sea which China claims.
Tan said local authorities will build more supply ships and infrastructure in Sansha, including ports, water supply and sewage treatment facilities.
China took full control of the Paracels – a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs – in 1974 after a naval showdown with the then South Vietnam, and there have been incidents ever since. Taiwan also claims the Paracels.
Last month Vietnam accused China of opening fire on a fishing boat near the Paracels and burning down its cabin, charges Beijing denied.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also claim other parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
China is in an increasingly angry dispute with its neighbors over the claims to parts of the potentially oil and gas-rich South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.
Taiwan plans to expand pier in disputed islands
Taiwan plans to expand a pier on one of the disputed Spratly islands, officials said Sunday, as the rest of the claimants beef up military deployment in the South China Sea.
The Coast Guard Administration has budgeted NT$19 million (US$640,000) to evaluate the project, which is part of its efforts to boost defence capabilities in the disputed area this year.
“The fund will mainly be used to do an environmental impact study near Taiping Island,” a coast guard official told news agency AFP.
The fortified island, under Taiwan’s control, is the largest in the disputed South China Sea area.
The United Evening News said the expanded pier would allow port calls by the coast guard’s 2,000-tonne frigates. The current pier provides facilities only to small patrol boats.
Taiwan built a 1,150-metre runway on Taiping in mid-2006, despite protests from the other countries with claims to the disputed island group.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys.
All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres.
The potentially resource-rich sea, home to important trade routes, is a potential military flashpoint and there has been a string of diplomatic rows between countries with overlapping territorial claims in recent years.
The Philippines and Vietnam have complained that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area – such as harassing fishermen – and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.