China wants to promote peaceful development of the oceans, Premier Li Keqiang has said. At the same time, he warned that conflicts in the past had only brought "disaster for humanity".
His words come at time when China is involved in a growing dispute with its neighbours over the energy-rich South China Sea, which China claims almost in its entirety. It rejects rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, making the dispute one of Asia's most intractable and a possible flashpoint. China also has a long-running dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
"China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development and firmly oppose any act of hegemony in maritime affairs," Li told a maritime summit in Greece, according to the foreign ministry's website. "Developing the oceans through cooperation has helped many nations flourish, while resorting to conflict to fight over the sea has only brought disaster for humanity."
At a forum in Beijing yesterday, China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who visited Vietnam last week to discuss a row over the siting of oil rigs in waters claimed by Hanoi, said Beijing had the patience and sincerity to push for talks to resolve such disputes, but China would not sacrifice its sovereignty.
"China will not trade its core interests and will not swallow the bitter pill of harming its sovereignty, security and development interests," said Yang, who outranks the foreign minister.
Xinhua, in a report late on Friday, accused Vietnam of encouraging trawlers to fish in disputed waters around the Paracel Islands - which China calls the Xisha Islands and Vietnam the Hoang Sa Islands - by using financial incentives.
"Vietnamese seized by Chinese law-enforcement authorities for illegal fishing confessed that they were given large subsidies by the Vietnamese government to fish in 'disputed waters'," Xinhua said. "In addition, armed Vietnamese fishing vessels have repeatedly looted Chinese fishing boats, posing a serious threat to the safety of Chinese fishermen's lives and property.
The Philippines has meanwhile said it will ask an international arbitration tribunal to make a speedy ruling on its South China Sea dispute with China.