Countries other than China could be accused of “militarising” the South China Sea, China’s foreign minister said today, hitting back at accusations concerning Beijing’s conduct in the disputed region.
Wang Yi, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament in Beijing, said China was exercising its rights of self-preservation and self-defence in building military facilities on islands and reefs in the sea.
“People talk a lot about militarisation. I think China cannot be accused of militarisation. The label is more suited to some other countries,” he said.
It was an apparent dig at the United States, which has sent naval ships to conduct freedom of navigation operations through the Spratlys where China has reclaimed land for island-building.
Apart from China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.
Wang also asserted Beijing’s longstanding claim to the Spratly Islands, saying they were Chinese territory and “every Chinese has the obligation to defend them”.
He also said “China has not and will not have new territorial claims.”
Wang said China hoped to improve relations with Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) while at the same time reiterating its rejection of the South China Sea arbitration filed by the Philippines.