Shangri-La Dialogue

China takes veiled shot at ‘destabilising’ US presence in the Asia-Pacific

Admiral Sun Jianguo says China does not feel isolated but that others with a cold-war mentality were in danger of isolating themselves

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 3:07am

China’s chief delegate to a regional security summit suggested ­on Sunday that United States was destabilising the Asia-Pacific by increasing its military presence and beefing up its coalition in the region amid heightened tensions over the South China Sea.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department, also rejected US Defence Secretary Ash Carter’s claim that China’s assertive action in the sea’s escalating maritime disputes was “provocative, destabilising and self-isolating”.

Sun said China “was not isolated in the past and we will not be isolated in the future”, saying many Asian nations were “friendlier and warmer” to China now than last year.

Over the three-day forum, he held 17 bilateral meetings, up from 13 last year. But there was no announcement of any between China and the United States or the Philippines.

“Actually, I am worried that some people and countries are still looking at China with a cold war mentality and prejudice. They may end up isolating themselves,” Sun said.

Washington keen to build ‘principled security network’ in Asia-Pacific, says US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter

Without naming the US, Sun said “some nation has blatantly showed off its military prowess” while colluding with other countries to exert pressure on China to accept an impending ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over the South China Sea disputes. He urged nations not directly in the disputes not to sabotage efforts to find a peaceful solution. “We don’t cause trouble and we are not afraid of any trouble,” Sun said.

I am worried that some people and countries are still looking at China with a cold war mentality and prejudice. They may end up isolating themselves
Admiral Sun Jianguo

Analysts said that despite their disputes, Beijing and Washington had played down their differences ahead of the start of the Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) opening in Beijing on Monday.

Huang Jing, a US-China relations expert at the National University of Singapore, said Sun gave a fairly comprehensive speech and Carter departed from his usual hawkish stand to talk about cooperation.

“It showed both Beijing and Washington believe the SED is more important for Sino-US ties,” Huang said.

Huang said Beijing appeared to be under greater pressure from the US and Asian nations to respect a rules-based international order ahead of the tribunal’s ruling.

China ‘may need a rethink’ as Vietnam moves closer to US

But Michael Pillsbury, a defence analyst at the US-based Hudson Institute’s Centre for Chinese Strategy, said Sun did not mention Beijing’s previous pledge not to militarise the South China Sea, something President Xi Jinping promised on his trip to Washington last year.

Without naming China, Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh warned that “unilateralism, coercion, self-interest and changes of the situation on the ground” threatened peace and stability in the region.

“Be that of any nature or any scale, partial or total ... armed conflicts will have disastrous consequences,” he said.

Nguyen also said Vietnam had no intention of buying weapons from Washington.

In Mongolia on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry also urged Beijing not to establish an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, saying it would be “a provocative and ­destabilising act”.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan