Goodwill is not weakness, general warns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 November, 2011, 12:00am


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Countries disputing China's claim to the South China Sea would be making a mistake in mistaking Beijing's goodwill and self-restraint for softness and weakness, an outspoken military strategist has warned.

Major-General Luo Yuan, a researcher with the Academy of Military Science of the People's Liberation Army, said any countries making such a mistake 'can only get the opposite of what they wish for'. However, he said that China always hoped the disputes could be solved through peaceful negotiations.

The United States and Japan have expressed concern over the disputes and the Philippines has accused China of aggression in the South China Sea, which straddles key shipping lanes and is potentially rich in oil and gas resources.

Luo said that as neither the US nor Japan had claimed any islands or reefs in the South China Sea, and as nearby countries had not done anything to affect the free navigation of international ships despite their overlapping claims, Washington and Tokyo would only make things more complicated by getting involved.

He said they did not understand the complexity of the issue and the complex relationship between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Five of Asean's 10 members claim territories that are also claimed by China, but Luo said each dispute was different. Professor Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert at Renmin University, said rising nationalistic sentiments in China allowed Beijing less diplomatic flexibility over the South China Sea.

Zhang Yunling, a senior researcher in international relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told a seminar in Beijing on Wednesday that peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region was China's fundamental interest.

He said that while the Chinese media paid a great deal of attention to the South China Sea dispute, most Asean leaders did not exaggerate the issue when they touched on it at last week's East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia. It was a Chinese tradition to claim its historical right over the South China Sea, Zhang said, but no other country 'claims such a large swathe of sea as its own sphere, as China has been doing since the 1940s'.

Disputes can only be solved through negotiation, he said, adding that was also the goal of Asean countries. What they wanted, above all, was development and unity - which China desires as well.