China vows not to wage war with any country

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 26) — China has vowed, in a white paper, that it will not wage war against any country and will never seek expansion or influence over other countries.

The whitepaper, its first since 2015 and released by the State Council Information Office on Wednesday, comes amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated warnings that asserting the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea which Manila claims, will lead to war.

The 51-page document titled "China's National Defense in the New Era", said, “Chinese people have suffered from aggressions and wars, and have learned the value of peace and the pressing need for development. Therefore, China will never inflict such sufferings on any other country.”

But China also said it “will surely counterattack if attacked.”

It also refused to vow to renounce the use of force in pursuing its reunification with Taiwan, a self-governing island which China views as a renegade province. Beijing added that it may take “all necessary measures” toward this goal.

READ: China's military warns against growing threat from Taiwan 'separatists'

Beijing also continued to assert that the “South China Sea islands” and Diaoyu Islands, also known as the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, are “inalienable parts” of its territory where it can build infrastructure, deploy defensive capabilities and conduct patrols.

It affirmed its commitment to resolve disputes on these areas through negotiating with the states involved “on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law.”

An arbitral tribunal created under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and backed by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea which were based on “historical rights.”

Beijing has still refused to recognize the 2016 award that largely favored Manila. Meanwhile, the Duterte administration has been criticized for failing to insist on the ruling.

READ: Carpio to Duterte: There are many ways to enforce arbitral ruling other than war

Duterte said Monday during his fourth State of the Nation Address that his administration will stand up and stop Chinese fishing in the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) “in due time.”

In the same speech, he also defended his purported verbal deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping which allowed Chinese fishermen into Recto Bank, which is within the Philippines’ EEZ, in exchange for allowing Filipino fishermen back into Scarborough Shoal, which fell into Beijing’s control following a standoff with Manila’s ships in 2012. His stance has earned him praise on Chinese state media.

READ: Carpio: Duterte-Xi fishing deal can be questioned before SC

China said increased dialogue between it and the Philippines on maritime security during the Duterte administration have brought the two countries “back on track” in addressing the issues on the South China Sea.

Beefing up

Beijing called the situation in the South China Sea as “generally stable and improving,” which it attributed to countries “properly managing risks and differences.”

READ: US Coast Guard calls for 'international push-back' vs. China's actions in South China Sea

It said that its armed forces are defending important waters, islands and reefs in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Yellow Sea. Beijing said it has deployed vessels on over 4,600 maritime security patrols and 72,000 rights protection and law enforcement operations.

Its Central Military Commission also conducted surprise inspections in the armed forces and organized readiness drills for them, including those deployed at the South China Sea.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has also organized naval parades, conducted a series of live force-on-force exercises and systematic all-elements exercises in those waters. Its air force has also conducted combat patrols in the South China Sea.

China also revealed that its defense spending has spiked to nearly $152 billion in 2017 from just $97 billion in 2012.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon acknowledged that Beijing has fortified its presence in the West Philippine Sea, but added that Manila is also beefing up its position in those waters.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island, one of the biggest islands in the West Philippine Sea, would be completed by the end of the year and would be used to bring in construction materials and heavy equipment from Puerto Princesa.

Once completed, Lorenzana said, the government can begin paving and even expanding the runway. He added that the government could also build hotels on the island, which is the seat of the municipal government of Kalayaan under Palawan province.