Chinese general takes a harsh line on Taiwan and other disputes at an international naval gathering


QINGDAO, China (AP) — One of China’s top military leaders took a harsh line on regional territorial disputes, telling an international naval gathering in northeastern China on Monday that the country would strike back with force if its interests came under threat.

The 19th biennial meeting of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium opened in the port city of Qingdao, where China’s northern naval force is based, providing a vivid backdrop to China’s massive military expansion over the past two decades that has seen it build or refurbish three aircraft carriers.

The four-day meeting has drawn representatives from partners and competitors including Australia, Cambodia, Chile, France, India and the U.S. and comes amid heightened tensions over China’s assertive actions in the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China seas, and as China’s navy has grown into the world’s largest by number of hulls.

Zhang Youxia, the vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, which controls the armed forces, spoke of “common development” and said “decoupling, friction and confrontation will only divide the world into isolated islands guarding against each other with suspicion.”

However, he then turned to China’s territorial claims, which have not been recognized under international law and in some cases have been denied. Beijing has ignored rulings not in its favor, particularly in the South China Sea, where it is in dispute with five other parties over islands, waterways and undersea resources.

Japan continues to defend its control over the uninhabited Senkaku island chain, called Diaoyu by China, in the East China Sea, against incursions by the Chinese coast guard.

Taiwan last week reinforced its foothold in the disputed South China Sea by establishing satellite communications between the main island and its garrison on Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, the largest land feature in the highly contested Spratly Island chain. China has created seven artificial islands in the area by piling sand and cement on top of coral reefs and then equipping them with airstrips and other military infrastructure.

Zhang said China’s territorial sovereignty “brooks no infringement and its core interests cannot be challenged. We do not provoke trouble, but we will never flinch in face of provocation. The Chinese military will resolutely defend the reunification and interest of the motherland.”

Zhang has spoken in the past of Beijing’s determination to take control of the self-governing island republic of Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, using force if necessary. With its crucial high-tech economy, Taiwan has been building up its defenses on its own and with help from the U.S., where Congress this weekend approved $8 billion in military aid for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific.

Taiwan is also building its own submarines and trainer aircraft and waiting on the delivery of upgraded versions of F-16 fighters, battle tanks and other hardware from the U.S.

Zhang appeared to press China’s unilateralist approach to foreign relations and military conflicts as espoused by Xi Jinping, the top military commander, Communist Party leader and head-of-state for life, who has eliminated all dissenting views.

China “remains committed to resolving maritime disputes with directly concerned countries through friendly consultations, but we will not allow our good faith to be abused,” Zhang said. “Particularly over the self-governing island republic of Taiwan that Beijing threatens to use force to bring under its control. We will take justified actions to defend our rights in accordance with the law.”

Zhang’s comments follow a major shakeup of the Chinese military in recent months that has seen the still-unexplained disappearance of former Defense Minister Li Shangfu and several top officers in the missile corps.


Bodeen reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

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