China rebuffed US pressure to curb its activity in the South China Sea on Sunday, restating its sovereignty over most of the disputed territory and saying it “has no fear of trouble”.
On the last day of Asia’s biggest security summit, Admiral Sun Jianguo said China will not be bullied, including over a pending international court ruling over its claims in the vital trade route. “We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of trouble,” Sun told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where more than 600 security, military and government delegates had gathered over three days.
“China will not bear the consequences, nor will it allow any infringement on its sovereignty and security interest, or stay indifferent to some countries creating chaos in the South China Sea.”
The waterway has become a flashpoint between the United States, which increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific under President Barack Obama’s “pivot”, and China, which is projecting ever greater economic, political and military power in the region.
The two have traded accusations of militarising the waterway as Beijing undertakes large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed features while Washington has increased its patrols and exercises.
On Saturday, top US officials including Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned China of the risk of isolating itself internationally and pledged to remain the main guarantor of Asian security for decades. Despite repeated notes of concern from countries such as Japan, India, Vietnam and South Korea, Sun rejected the prospect of isolation, saying that many of the Asian countries at the gathering were “warmer” and “friendlier” to China than a year ago. China had 17 bilateral meetings this year, compared with 13 in 2015.
“We were not isolated in the past, we are not isolated now and we will not be isolated in the future,” Sun said. “Actually I am worried that some people and countries are still looking at China with the Cold War mentality and prejudice. They may build a wall in their minds and end up isolating themselves.”
During a visit to Mongolia on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Beijing not to establish an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea, as it did over the East China Sea in 2013.