BEIJING: China has the “right and ability” to seize islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) occupied by other countries, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of regional summits expected to discuss the contested waters.
Beijing claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has sought to reinforce its position by rapidly constructing artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan also have competing claims on the disputed islands.
But Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told in a briefing, “The Chinese government has the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries.”
“But we didn’t do that, we exercised maximum restraint,” he said.
China’s island building has raised tensions with rival claimants and the United States.
Liu defended China’s building of an airstrip long enough to accommodate military jets on one of the islands.
“Actually, the bigger the facilities, the more they can be used for civilian purposes,” he said.
China has for years attempted to discourage Southeast Asian countries from collectively pushing their claims.
It has said that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum taking place in Manila this week was “no place” to discuss the issue.
Earlier this month, an Asia-Pacific defense ministers’ meeting in Malaysia ended on a sour note as the United States and China butted heads over whether a final joint statement should mention the West Philippine Sea.