Chinese missile frigate CNS Yulin participates in the "Maritime Cooperation Exercise 2015" held in the South China Sea, May 25, 2015. Photo: Xinhua

UpdateChina denies it is readying air defence zone in South China Sea

Admiral Sun Jianguo tells Singapore forum security in disputed waters is stable for now

China’s top military representative to a regional security summit on Sunday dismissed speculation Beijing would soon establish an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the disputed South China Sea, calling on other countries to stop trying to “sow discord” over the issue.

But Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff for the People's Liberation Army, would not rule out creating the zone, saying it depended on the security situation.

“The Chinese government and military never said they were going to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea,” Sun said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

“The security situation in the South China Sea so far is stable. It is groundless for people to play up such an issue.”

The decision on whether to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea – following one Beijing introduced in the East China Sea in 2013 – would be based on an assessment of the situation, Sun said.

His remarks came amid escalating tensions between China and the United States over the disputed waters, with US Defence Secretary Ash Carter demanding an immediate end to all reclamation works by claimants and saying Beijing was “out of step” with international norms with its behaviour in the area.

Reclamation work by China has fuelled speculation it will declare an ADIZ, which would require overflying aircraft to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. The United States has expressed concern that freedom of navigation could be at risk.

Sun said in a speech to the forum that China was determined to protect its territorial interests and would never submit to “hegemony”.

But he avoided commenting on the Pentagon’s warning it would send aircraft and warships within the 12-nautical mile sovereign territory around the islets that Beijing claims.

He said the main purpose of the reclamation work was civilian and scientific.

WATCH: Senior Chinese military official says South China Sea actions hinge on security

“Apart from meeting necessary defence needs, it is more geared to help China better carry out its international responsibilities and obligations regarding maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production, [and] services,” he said.

Major General Jin Yinan, director of the strategic research institute at the PLA National Defence University, said Sun’s comments that China had no plan to set up an ADIZ should not be taken as a permanent promise.

It was just a “temporary decision”, said Jin, who is a member of the PLA’s delegation to the forum. “What Admiral Sun wants to make clear is, China will decide to establish an ADIZ in the area when it feels challenged or in danger, but so far we don’t need it.”

INFOGRAPHIC: Surveying territorial claims in the South China Sea

Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez, the Philippines’ commander, said he was encouraged by Sun’s speech, and agreed the situation was stable.

“Those alleged potential military confrontations [between China and the Philippines] are all political speculation, and I don’t want to make any comments,” Lopez said.

“My fleet is not bothered” by the Chinese navy currently in the South China Sea, he said.

Indonesian Defence Minister General Ryamizard Ryacudu, who held a bilateral meeting with Sun yesterday, said it was too early to judge China’s actions in the South China Sea, but he welcomed the admiral’s remarks.

“I don’t agree with most of Sun’s standpoint, but I think it’s a good beginning” to build trust, he said. “Once trust is built, then we can go to the next step to work together and come up with solutions,” he said.

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse