SINGAPORE – There will never be a problem with freedom of maritime navigation or overland flights in the South China Sea, pledged Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday.
Delivering a Singapore Lecture as part of his official state visit to the Republic, Mr Xi said that the “starting point and ultimate purpose” of China’s policy in the South China Sea is the maintenance of peace and stability, adding that a stable environment for development is the “common interest of all Asian countries”.
“There has been no problem with maritime navigation or overland flights, nor will there ever be in the future.”
China is involved in long-standing disputes with several countries, including four Asean member states, over territory in the South China Sea.
Mr Xi repeated China’s position that islands in the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times and that the Chinese government must uphold its sovereign rights and maritime interests.
But he emphasised that China seeks to resolve its issues with countries occupying some of the islands through peaceful dialogue.
He said that the most important task facing all Asian countries at present is to ensure robust and sustained development, which requires a peaceful and stable environment.
“This is the biggest common interest of Asian countries. Non-Asian countries should understand and respect this, and play a constructive role.”
In the hour-long speech at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Mr Xi spoke on China and Singapore’s 25 years of bilateral ties, China’s regional and international initiatives, and the Asian giant’s own domestic policy priorities, which include addressing rural and urban poverty, cementing the middle class and finding an environmentally-sustainable developmental path.
He said that he had been thinking about how China’s cooperation with its neighbours can be deepened to boost their common goal of development, and suggested four guiding ideas:
First, he said that Asian countries should work together to uphold peace and stability and that “we should never let animosity divide us”.
Second, he said that Asian countries should jointly prioritise development that improves the lives of their people, and engage in mutual assistance to this end.
Third, he urged cooperation in addressing security threats and “non-traditional” challenges like environmental protection.
Finally, he said that Asian countries should work to deepen their common Asian identity, and to draw on long-standing people-to-people ties, and a history of shared culture, to ensure long-term harmony.
Mr Xi, whose visit to Singapore is to mark the 25th anniversary of bilateral ties, started his Singapore Lecture by lauding the “hardworking and visionary people of Singapore” who have built the city into one of most advanced countries in Asia. Congratulating Singapore on its success at its Golden Jubilee, he noted that the Sino-Singapore relationship dates back to Admiral Zheng He’s visits to the island in the early 15th century.
He also recalled his long association with Singapore, beginning in 1986 with his first visit as executive vice mayor of Xiamen, one of China’s four special economic zones. His aim then was to learn about the Jurong Industrial Park.
The bilateral relationship between Singapore and China is a partnership that progresses with time, Mr Xi said, adding “I’m confident we will scale new heights.”
Mr Xi ended his lecture by paying tribute to “the great statesmen who forged this relationship, Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew”.
He said he still recalls his meetings with Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister, who died in March aged 91. “His voice is still ringing in my ears and I’ve drawn great inspiration from our conversations.”
Mr Xi said that he was glad to see that the saplings of Sino-Singapore friendship planted by Mr Deng and Mr Lee have grown into trees laden with fruit, and urged the young people of both countries to carry this friendship forward.