China on Tuesday made it clear that it will not budge on its claims over the South China Sea (SCS), saying it will not allow other countries to infringe on what it considers sovereign territorial rights.
The SCS region is a strategically vital area with trade worth more than $5 trillion passing through the maritime region and is also said to be resource-rich. Beijing is locked in long-standing disputes over the ownership of islands and reefs in the region with Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
On Tuesday, foreign minister Wang Yi, taking what seemed to be a continuing hardline stance on the disputes, said the islands were an integral part of China and “every Chinese is obligated to defend” the territory.
Speaking at a press conference during the ongoing annual meeting of National People’s Congress (NPC), Wang added that China wasn’t militarising the region – as the US has been claiming – and that other nations were being militaristic.
The freedom to navigate in the SCS does not imply wanton activities by other countries, Wang said.
“Freedom of navigation does not imply doing whatever you want,” Wang said, adding that because of the efforts made by China and other countries, the region remains among the world’s safest and freest sail lanes. Wang deflected criticism that by deploying arms on the islands, like deploying surface-to-air missiles.
“Building defence facilities on its own islands and reefs, China exercises the right of self- defence entitled by the international law,” he said.