China to maintain peaceful settlement of South China Sea maritime dispute

MANILA - China will always resort to dialogues to peacefully resolve territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, a spokesperson for the annual session of the 12th National People's Congress said on Saturday.

"We call for peaceful settlement of the territorial disputes and maritime interest. We believe that the differences can be resolved by dialogue," Fu Ying, spokesperson for the 5th Session of the 12th NPC which will open on Sunday, said in a press conference.

Fu, meanwhile, announced that China would increase its defense budget by seven percent in 2017 from last year's 954.3 billion yuan (roughly USD 146 billion).

The military budget of China, the world's second largest economy, is 1.3 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) which grew 6.7 percent year-on-year to 74.41 trillion yuan, or USD10.83 trillion in 2016.

"We must be capable of safeguarding our sovereignty and interests. We should be prepared for intervention from outside forces," Fu said.

She made the announcement on China's defense budget increase few days after US President Donald Trump said he would propose a USD54-billion hike on US military budget.

Fu, however, allayed fears that China will be a threat to security in the South China Sea which is being partly claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia.

"China will not cause harm to any country. If other countries insist that China is a threat to navigation is misleading. We uphold international law. China is a not a threat," Fu stressed.

The United States has recently expressed concerns over the freedom of navigation following reports that China has set up military bases in the reclaimed islands in the South China Sea.

In July last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines on its arbitration case filed against China's historical nine-dash line claim that covers huge part of the disputed territory.

The case was filed during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III and the arbitration judgment came out a month after he stepped down from in June last year. China refused to accept the verdict.

Under new President Rodrigo Dutere, the Philippines has revitalized its relations with China after Duterte decided to temporarily shelve the ruling to allow direct talks with Chinese leaders led by President Xi Jinping.

The renewed relations had in fact resulted in USD24 billion investment pledges and funding brought by President Duterte from his four-day visit in China in October last year.

President Duterte's trip has also prompted China to reopen Scarborough Shoal to the Filipino fishermen.

Fu said China would continue to open its door to the world and offer its perspective and solutions as what President Xi emphasized in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.

"China must work harder to communicate with the world and inform them what is happening in China," she said. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency