No compromise on disputed islands, says foreign minister Wang Yi

Foreign minister says China will engage in dialogue not bullying, but will not back down in its rows with Tokyo and Manila

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 5:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 6:58am

China will never bully its neighbours but will not compromise over unreasonable demands in territorial disputes, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

Beijing would resolve such disputes through peaceful negotiations, but would "defend every inch of territory that belongs to us", Wang said at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual National People's Congress session yesterday. He appeared to be referring to the Philippines and other claimants to territory in the South China Sea.

The remarks came as the Philippines said it had rejected a Chinese offer to withdraw its ships from the Scarborough Shoal if Manila delayed filing its arbitration case over the matter with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Beijing has denied making such an offer to Manila.

Referring to a similar dispute with Japan over a cluster of islands in the East China Sea, Wang said "there is no room for compromise in territorial and historical issues".

China and Japan have exchanged increasingly harsh rhetoric over their claims to the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan controls and calls the Senkakus.

China claims ownership of the islands, and relations soured when Tokyo said it had purchased the Senkakus from private owners last year. China and South Korea were also incensed when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine housing the remains of 14 leading second world war criminals.

The acrimonious Sino-Japanese relationship has heightened fears of a military confrontation between the countries.

Following Abe's visit, which Japan has defended as a domestic matter, Beijing accused Tokyo of returning to its militaristic past. Tokyo countered that their relationship now looked more like it did before the first world war a century ago.

Wang rejected the comparison, saying Japan should learn from Germany's contrition over its wartime aggression.

The moves by Japanese leaders had "betrayed the spirit of the normalisation of China-Japanese ties in 1972, and damaged the foundation of the Sino-Japanese relationship", Wang said.

"Only by making a clean break with the past and not going back on their own words can the relationship between the two nations emerge from the current deadlock and have a future," he said.

Wang also called on the US to respect China's core interests and territorial sovereignty as Washington continued to rebuild its military and diplomatic presence in its so-called pivot to Asia.

"The Asia-Pacific region should be a testing ground for China and the US to build a new model of 'major power relationships' [a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping ], instead of becoming a ground for competition," he said.

Wrapping up China's diplomacy last year, Wang said Beijing had been more proactive on major international issues, saying it had helped resolved the crisis in Syria and the Iranian nuclear issue.

"We will take an active part in international and regional affairs, put forward more Chinese proposals and play a bigger role in helping resolve all kinds of global issues," he said.

He added that the relationship between China and Russia had reached a "historic peak", with a high degree of mutual political trust. He called on the two nations to deepen co-operation and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of second world war next year.

On Ukraine, Wang said the crisis there, which erupted after violent protests that led to the overthrow of its president, Viktor Yanukovych, should be resolved through political dialogue.

"The priority now should be exercising calm and restraint, and preventing further escalation of the situation," he said.

He also called on parties involved in the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programme to enhance political trust before they resume.