Chinese military vows to protect its maritime rights


China vowed to protect its maritime rights and is “fully confident and capable of” addressing security threats and “provocations”, amid escalating tensions over the disputed South China Sea after a UN-backed tribunal struck down Beijing’s claims over the strategic waters.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will “unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests including territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests”, State Councillor and Defence Minister Chang Wanquan said.

“It will always stand ready to be called upon and be able to fight and win,” state-run China Daily quoted him as saying while addressing an event to mark the 89th anniversary of the PLA.

The 2.3 million-strong army, the world’s largest and part of the ruling Communist Party of China’s liberation struggle, turned 89 today. China will staunchly protect the country’s maritime rights and interests and is “fully confident and capable of addressing various security threats and provocations”, he said.

Chang did not directly refer to the South China Sea situation during his remarks yesterday, but tension there was heightened this year by increased US patrols and the arbitration case brought by the Philippines against China, according to the official media. Last month, the PLA conducted two military drills in the South China Sea ahead of the tribunal verdict on July 21 and later announced regular air patrols over the area.

China, which boycotted the tribunal, has rejected the verdict on the strategic waters over which the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have counter-claims. The US which carried out air and naval patrols in the area to assert freedom of navigation has asked Beijing to accept the verdict, saying it is binding.

Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the increased US military patrols and joint drills with allies “have imposed military intimidation (on China) and fuelled regional tension”.

However, China’s recent drills in the South China Sea are “of a totally different nature,” as the PLA drills in Chinese territory, while the US, an outsider to the region, covers thousands of miles to come to China’s doorstep, Zhang told the Daily.

Chen Qinghong, a researcher of Southeast Asian and Philippine studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said some senior US defence officials have made hard-line comments about the region recently, and Washington “will possibly continue its tough gestures”.