China's no bully, Xi tells bloc

China's no bully, Xi tells bloc

Gen Prayut attends special Asean summit

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other Asean leaders attend a special virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday. During his speech, Gen Prayut reiterated the importance of maintaining regional stability. Government House photo
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other Asean leaders attend a special virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday. During his speech, Gen Prayut reiterated the importance of maintaining regional stability. Government House photo

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping told leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at a summit yesterday that Beijing would not "bully" its smaller regional neighbours, amid rising tension over the South China Sea.

Beijing's territorial claims over the sea clash with those of several Asean countries and have raised concerns from Washington to Tokyo.

But Mr Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with Asean to eliminate "interference".

"China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, good friend, and good partner of Asean," Chinse state media quoted Mr Xi as saying.

China's assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against Asean members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

The Philippines on Thursday condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.

The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions "dangerous, provocative, and unjustified", and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defence commitments.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Mr Xi that he "abhors" the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute. He referred to a 2016 international arbitration ruling which found China's maritime claim to the sea had no legal basis.

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations," said Mr Duterte, who will leave office next year and has been criticised in the past for failing to condemn China's conduct in the disputed waters.

Mr Xi told the summit that China and Asean had "cast off the gloom of the Cold War" -- when the region was wracked by superpower competition and conflicts such as the Vietnam War -- and had jointly maintained regional stability.

China frequently criticises the US for "Cold War thinking" when Washington engages its regional allies to push back against Beijing's growing military and economic influence.

US President Joe Biden joined Asean leaders for a virtual summit in October and pledged greater engagement with the region.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the virtual Asean-China Special Summit that marked the 30th Anniversary of Asean-China dialogue that Thailand has set out a national development vision with a view to elevating people's quality of life and improving their capacities to be ready for the 21st century.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and other pressing challenges, the country is advancing into the "Next Normal by reinventing Thailand", he said. Gen Prayut suggested three priorities the summit should attach the utmost importance to.

First, Asean can exchange with and learn from China's achievements in several areas, such as sustainable agriculture, including in manufacturing, processing, and value-adding for agricultural products. The same could be done with China's achievements on poverty and hunger eradication, food security promotion through the "Clean Plate" Policy, he said.

He said Thailand supports China's continued and constructive role in narrowing development gaps both in Asean and the sub-regions, particularly the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation framework, under which Thailand will assume co-chairmanship with China in 2022, and the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, of which China is one of the key Development Partners.

Second, Asean and China should focus on enhancing socio-economic resilience from the grassroots. This includes reforming the learning processes and development potential of people of all ages by utilising science, technology and innovation in an appropriate and safe manner, Gen Prayut said.

Third, he said that sustainable and environmentally-friendly development is necessary for the survival of mankind. Thailand reaffirms its commitment to continuing a proactive role in advancing cooperation in this field both at regional and global level, by focusing on promoting a balance of all things and sustainability in all dimensions, he said.

Gen Prayut also reiterated the importance of maintaining and promoting regional peace and stability.

Lastly, Gen Prayut reaffirmed Thailand's unwavering commitment to helping forge partnerships that were more secure, prosperous and sustainable. In this regard, Mr Xi confirmed his support for Thailand hosting Apec 2022.

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