US, China tone down rhetoric over South China Sea

Tensions ease slightly as both parties, under the watchful eye of world's media, refrain from tough remarks at Singapore forum

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 May, 2015, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 9:07am

Chinese delegates attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore said Beijing had used a less hawkish approach in the security forum, refraining from tough remarks that would increase tensions over the South China Sea.

Major General Jin Yinan said yesterday there had been no progress in resolving the dispute, but the atmosphere had calmed a little because of "reasonable consideration" by all parties.

"We might disappoint overseas media because [they have been excited] since CNN's report on the Chinese navy's warning against a US spy plane flight … with many expecting an explosive quarrel," Jin said.

"But [the Chinese delegation] are all very clear that we did not come here for a quarrel, but to explain our standpoint of why and how to build a community of common destiny for Asia, and to negotiate and cooperate with other countries."

Jin, director of the strategic research institute at the PLA's National University, said the delegation did not expect to solve the problem, but hoped to ease the tension and prevent the recent diplomatic spats from escalating.

He said the United States was "also very smart and flexible when dealing with South China Sea issues". He said that a speech by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter to the forum yesterday, in which Carter said that countries other than China were also at fault for the tensions, showed he was not being "driven by Western media's provocative reports".

Tension in the South China Sea mounted on Friday when the US said China had placed mobile artillery on a reclaimed island. The next day the US called for "an immediate and lasting halt" to the practice, drawing a strongly worded response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Major General Chen Zhou, a senior researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said he had explained to China's neighbours that Beijing planned to build a lighthouse, disaster relief facilities and safe harbours for fishing vessels on the islands and that these would be shared with civilian ships from all Asian countries.

"We are telling our counterparts that the key purposes for military ports will not be used for war in the future, but anti-piracy, counterterrorism and other non-traditional security issues," Chen said.

"The chance for war is very slim in today's world, with all countries sharing complicated common interests. Whether our neighbours are willing to trust us … just let them wait and see what China will do."

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence magazine, said even the Japanese delegation, under the close watch of domestic and overseas media, had played down their criticisms of China.

"Both the US and China realise that the Shangri-La Dialogue is not a place for problem-solving as it doesn't have any legal binding. Stirring up diplomatic spats becomes meaningless because it would only mess up the issue or even backfire," Chang said.