Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) leaders that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbour, as he announced the establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the 10-country bloc.
China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with Asean to eliminate “interference”, Xi, was quoted by Chinese official media as saying amid rising tension with a number of littoral Asean states over the South China Sea.
“China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, a good friend, and a good partner of Asean,” Xi said.
Xi was chairing the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-Asean Dialogue Relations via video link on Monday morning.
The group comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte struck an angry note at the regional summit when he said that he “abhors” a recent altercation with Chinese ships in the South China Sea (SCS) and said the rule of law was the only way out of problems. “We abhor the recent event. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations,” Duterte said.
Duterte was referring to the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that is said to have blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.
The United States called the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative and unjustified” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defence commitments, a Reuters report said.
Speaking at the summit, Xi said: “We need to pursue dialogue instead of confrontation, build partnerships instead of alliances. China firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics. China will never seek hegemony, still less bully smaller countries.”
China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the SCS has set it against Asean members Vietnam and the Philippines while Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway region, are also part of the ongoing dispute.
Announcing the “comprehensive strategic partnership”, Xi Jinping said it was “…a new milestone in the history of our relations and will inject new impetus into peace, stability, prosperity and development of our region and the world”.
“China supports Asean’s efforts to build a nuclear weapons-free zone and is prepared to sign the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone as soon as possible,” Xi said.
China is ready to provide with another $1.5 billion in development assistance in the next three years to support Asean countries’ fight against Covid-19 and economic recovery, Xi said.
The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar, reports said.