Xi Jinping tells ASEAN leaders, China will not “bully” neighbours, amid rising regional tensions

Nov 22, 2021: China’s President Xi Jinping said Monday at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbors amid rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Beijing’s territorial claims over maritime conflict with several Southeast Asian nations have sounded alarm bells from Washington to Tokyo. But Xi said China would never gain dominance, nor would it take advantage of its size to put pressure on smaller countries, and would work with ASEAN to end “interference.”

“China has been, is and will always be a good neighbor, good friend and good partner of ASEAN,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying.

China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea has pitted it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts.

The Philippines on Thursday condemned the actions of three Chinese Coast Guard ships, which were said to have intercepted and used water cannons on refueling boats heading for the Philippine-occupied atoll at sea.

The United States on Friday called the Chinese move “dangerous, provocative and unjustified” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine ships would affect US mutual defense commitments.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told a summit hosted by Xi Jinping that he “abhors” the conflict and said the rule of law was the only way out. He cited a 2016 international arbitration decision that found that there was no legal basis for China’s maritime claim to the sea.

“It doesn’t speak well of the relationship between our nations,” said Duterte, who will step down next year and criticize China’s failure to condemn past conduct in disputed waters.

ASEAN group members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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.

When Washington joins its regional allies in pushing back Beijing’s growing military and economic influence, China often criticizes the United States for its “Cold War thinking.”

US President Joe Biden joined ASEAN leaders for a virtual summit in October and promised greater engagement with the region. Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Monday that the summit was held without a Myanmar representative. The reason for the absence was not immediately clear, and a spokesman for Myanmar’s military government declined to comment.

Asean sidelined Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power on February 1, from virtual summits last month over his failure to make inroads in implementing an agreed peace plan, in an unprecedented exclusion for the bloc.

Myanmar refused to send junior representation and blamed Asean for departing from its non-interference principle and caving to Western pressure.

China lobbied for Min to attend the summit, according to diplomatic sources.

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