Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission, delivers his speech during a plenary session at the 15th International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday. Photo: AFP
A senior Chinese military official on Sunday gave a strongly worded speech, defending China's sovereignty in the South China Sea and warning that China has "no fear of trouble."
Analysts said Sun's speech shows China's confidence in both its economic and military capabilities to defend its sovereignty.
"We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of it," Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission, said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major security conference.
"China will not bear the consequences, nor will it allow any infringement upon its sovereignty and security interests or stay indifferent to the irresponsible behavior of some countries in and around the South China Sea," Sun said.
"The statement is a clear response to the provocations on the South China Sea. The infrastructure construction on the islands in the region is to safeguard China's sovereignty and has no intention to stir up trouble. However if there is external provocation, the statement is saying China has the economic and military capabilities to defend itself and is prepared to do so," Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Sun also rejected US allegations that China is risking isolating itself in the region.
"We were not isolated in the past, we are not isolated now, and we will not be isolated in the future," Sun said, noting that countries that maintain a Cold War mentality when dealing with China risk building a wall and isolating themselves.
Sun's speech was in response to a statement given by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who said Beijing risked building a "Great Wall of self-isolation" in a speech at the US Naval Academy last week, AFP reported.
Sun, who led the Chinese delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue for the second time, defended the country's non-acceptance, non-participation attitude toward the upcoming UN arbitration ruling on the disputes.
"It is not China that has been bullying smaller countries. In the South China Sea, there are situations where a certain big power is assisting the smaller ones, and some small nations are extorting its bigger neighbor," Sun said.
Defense ministers and military chiefs and officials from around 30 countries attended the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday. The conference ended Sunday after a series of open and closed-door sessions.
"Sun's strong and reasonable political claim reflects China's sincerity and goodwill in maintaining global peace and regional stability, and it also expressed the Chinese military's determination and will to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Luo Yuan, executive vice president and secretary general of the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association, told the Global Times.
"Admiral Sun's speech was surprisingly aggressive, but he made China's position on regional security very clear," Sanjaya Baru, senior consulting fellow for India and director of India's International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that this year's dialogue had no more tensions than last year.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the US would consider any establishment by China of an air defense zone over the South China Sea a "provocative and destabilizing act," Reuters reported.
"When it says China is building a self-isolating Great Wall, the US should not build a castle that keeps China outside," said Major General Yao Yunzhu, a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science.
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said at the conference on Saturday that "no country can be an outsider of this [South China Sea] issue."
At a bilateral conference between China and Japan on Saturday, Sun said "China has always been on high alert toward Japan's intentions of returning to the South China Sea."
"If Japan and the US take the alleged joint cruise or other military activities, China will not remain indifferent to it," Sun said, adding that such activities by Japan would damage Sino-Japanese relations.
"The South China Sea issue is not the main issue between China, the US, China's neighbors in the region and European countries. At such a platform, countries should spend more time discussing other issues, such as how to cooperate and how to provide regional security," Yao said.
Liu Chang contributed to this story