This week China's President Xi Jinping pledged that the country will "never seek hegemony or expansion." But some of Beijing's neighbors think China has been expanding its territorial footprint for years at their expense.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Department Spokesman Charles Jose says Manila hopes “to see the gap between China’s pronouncements and the actual conditions on the ground bridged.” Jose was referring to the simmering dispute over outcroppings in the South China Sea.
China in the past year and a half has built on to at least seven islets that the Philippines and Vietnam also claim. A recent U.S. defense report says the newly expanded islands comprise nearly 1,200 hectares and at least one of them can accommodate naval ships and military aircraft.
After years of failed attempts at a bilateral resolution of the disputes, the Philippines has taken its grievance over China’s nearly 90 percent claim to the sea to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
“China has set an impossible precondition to these bilateral negotiations and consultations," Jose said. "China would like us to recognize their indisputable sovereignty in the South China Sea. Of course it is something that we cannot accept.”
China’s President Xi said in the military parade speech Thursday, “In the interest of peace, China will remain committed to peaceful development. We Chinese love peace,' he said. " No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion.”
Euan Graham, director of International Security at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy, says Xi said “many of the right things.
“But clearly the optics of the parade were rather belligerent in terms of all the hardware that was on display. And I think that gives a very conflicted message," Graham noted.
Chinese media footage showed row upon row of ballistic missiles with different range capabilities, including some anti-ship missiles that can break apart U.S. strike group carriers.
Apart from the Philippines and Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich, heavily traveled South China Sea.