President Xi Jinping has vowed that no violations of territorial integrity will be tolerated and said no nation should be allowed to monopolise global affairs.
The comments, which were made as Xi hosted the leaders of India and Myanmar in Beijing, were seen as a veiled attack on the United States, and highlighted the suspicions between Beijing and Washington.
Xi, Myanmese President Thein Sein, and Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari commemorated a decades-old agreement to principles of coexistence. The principles were agreed when then premier Zhou Enlai visited the two nations in 1954, as China sought to break the diplomatic isolation of the Communist regime in its early years.
Xi used the ceremonial occasion to outline China's diplomatic direction. "Sovereignty is the reliable safeguard and fundamental element of national interest. Sovereignty and territorial integrity should not be infringed upon," Xi said. "This is the hard principle that should not be cast aside" at any time.
China is locked in territorial disputes with neighbours including Japan, the Philippines and India. Washington has said it will honour its treaty protecting Japan if the nation were attacked, and signed an agreement with Manila that will allow a bigger presence of US forces in the country.
Xi said all nations should be given equal footing in the global security framework, and share equal rights.
Individual nations should be allowed to choose their own path of development, and China opposed the overthrow of legitimate government of other nations out of "selfish interests".
"We oppose infringing upon the legitimate rights of other nations, and damaging peace and stability under the pretext of exercising international laws," Xi said.
He added that a "new architecture of Asia-Pacific security" was needed, and China would maintain positive ties with major powers, including the US.
Xi did not mention the territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, but observers said his remarks indicated that Beijing felt it should not be blamed for the tensions.
"The message is that China is not the source of the problem, and it is some external force violating principles of international relations and making chaos in the region," said Su Hao, a professor with China Foreign Affairs University.
Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Beijing intended to play a bigger security role in the Asia-Pacific region but was in conflict with the US.
Xi said China would never seek hegemony no matter how strong it was.
Li said China wanted to counter its aggressive image, but its neighbours might not be convinced. "There is a perception that what China is doing is different from what it says," he said.
A Guilding Light In Diplomacy
The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, known as the Panchsheel Treaty in India, are a set of principles governing relations between states signed when premier Zhou Enlai visited India and Myanmar in 1954.
The five principles are:
- Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty;
- Mutual non-aggression;
- Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs;
- Respect for mutual equality and work for mutual benefit;
- Peaceful co-existence.
The principles were agreed among the three nations under the assumption that they would be turned into the norms for international relations. In remarks made after the signing of the Sino-Indian treaty, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: "If these principles were recognised in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war." The principles were put forward at the negotiations between China and India over their disputed territories. But a war over the dispute broke out between the two nations in 1962 - a dispute that has still not been resolved.