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Chinese premier assures stability in South China Sea to boost trade

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-03-24 17:28

Chinese premier assures stability in South China Sea to boost trade

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, speak at joint press conference after their annual talks in Canberra  in Australia on March 24, 2017. [Photo/provided to]

CANBERRA - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Friday the market and business community can continue to have strong faith in the peace and stability in the South China Sea and use the sea lanes with free passage to pursue more free trade.

Li, who is on an official visit to Australia from Wednesday to Sunday, made the comment at a joint press conference with his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, after their annual talks in Canberra.

The South China Sea has always been peaceful and stable, said Li, adding that last year alone there were more than 100,000 commercial ships sailing through the region and people heard little about attacks or piracy against the ships.

"Maintaining peace and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight is the shared responsibility of all countries in the region," Li said.

"China has no intention to militarize the South China Sea. Our facilities on the islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes with a certain amount of military equipment to protect the freedom of navigation and overflight," the premier said.

As one of the largest traders of goods in the world, China's interests are at stake in the region, where a large proportion of aircraft and ships that fly over or sail through are engaged in China's trade with the rest of the world, Li said.

"Without stability and freedom of navigation and overflight, China would be the first to bear the brunt," Li said.

He said China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully through talks between concerned parties.

Both China and ASEAN are actively advancing the consultations on the formulation of a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea to safeguard maritime stability and freedom of navigation and overflight, Li said.

Turnbull said Australia, as a non-claimant to any of the disputed territories or features in the South China Sea, looks forward to the conclusion of the COC between China and ASEAN and urges all parties to refrain from taking any actions that would add to regional tensions.

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