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Beijing hopes negotiations can resolve disputes, experts say
The military dismissed conjecture that Beijing is preparing for war to defend national territory in the South China Sea, saying the PLA opposes any armed intervention in the region.
Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng was speaking on Tuesday at a news conference on the eve of the 85th anniversary of the PLA.
All nine members of the Political Bureau Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, in a rare appearance on Tuesday, attended a reception to mark the anniversary.
Geng's comments further clarified that Beijing wanted to solve territorial disputes through negotiation even though it has the capability to resort to armed force, experts said.
"China has indisputable sovereign rights over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, and the military opposes any outside military intervention in this area," Geng said when asked about the possibility of conflict.
China's territorial disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea escalated sharply earlier this year after a Philippine warship harassed fishing boats in waters near China's Huangyan Island. The Philippines disputes China's sovereignty.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino announced on July 23 plans for a 75 billion peso ($1.8 billion) fund to upgrade the military and asked his nation to "speak with one voice" on the issue of Huangyan Island.
One day later, China officially established the city of Sansha on Yongxing Island in Hainan province, and also established a military garrison.
A regular combat-readiness patrol has been established in waters under China's jurisdiction, Geng said.
The patrol is not targeting any specific country but will protect China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, he said, adding that the PLA is "confident that it is capable" of performing the task.
A legitimate move by the navy, to protect national interests, should not be interpreted as adopting a hard line against other countries, Geng said.
"At least we can tell from Geng's remarks that, at present, China is not willing to resort to armed force to solve disputes in the South China Sea," said Niu Jun, a professor of international politics at Peking University.
The stance is consistent with the government trying to solve the issue in a peaceful way, Niu said.
"There are hawkish voices at home, but in my view they are just acting in an irresponsible way which does not help the situation."
Zhai Dequan, deputy secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, believed Geng's comments are a message to Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan not to use intrigue or deceit to increase the risk of military conflict in the South China Sea or the East China Sea.
No one will benefit from war, he said.
The news conference also heard senior PLA officers address other issues.
Colonel Lin Bai, with the General Armament Department of the PLA, dismissed reports that China's aircraft carrier is ready for service, saying it will continue to undergo tests.
The military announced the aircraft carrier, the first in the navy, exactly one year ago.
"The Great Wall was not built in a day. I hope the question can be treated in a rational and objective way," Lin said.
Wang Yongsheng, from the PLA General Political Department, stressed China resolutely opposed any suggestion concerning the de-politicization of the army, adding that these stem from "ulterior motives".
"The PLA was founded by, and is under the leadership of, the Communist Party of China, and the CPC's absolute leadership over the army is the army's fundamental system and principle," said Wang.
"Our army belongs to the Party, but it also belongs to the State and to the people," he said.
Wang said some people in other countries criticized China's military system. That criticism spread erroneous ideas. Some even suggested the Party should end its leadership of the army, according to Wang.
"Those ideas stem from ulterior motives," said Wang. "We will resolutely oppose them."
At the reception held at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday evening, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie proposed a toast that "this is a year of special significance in the development of our Party and our country".
The CPC is going to hold its 18th National Congress later this year.
The PLA will "unswervingly follow the basic principle and system of the Party's absolute leadership over the armed forces", Liang said.
"We will firmly stay committed to the path of peaceful development, follow an independent foreign policy of peace and continue to conduct friendly exchanges and cooperation with the armed forces of other countries," the minister said.
Xinhua contributed to this story.
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