Beijing (CNN)Chinese President Xi Jinping told leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Monday that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbors, amid rising tension over the South China Sea.
Beijing’s territorial claims over the sea clash with those of several Southeast Asian nations and have raised alarm from Washington to Tokyo.
But Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with ASEAN to eliminate “interference.”
Analysis: Asia's quiet militarization threatens to turn the region into a powder keg
Analysis: Asia’s quiet militarization threatens to turn the region into a powder keg
“China was, is, and will always be a good neighbor, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying.
China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
The Philippines on Thursday condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.
The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified,” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defense commitments.
Analysis: The long arm of China's new maritime law risks causing conflict with US and Japan
Analysis: The long arm of China’s new maritime law risks causing conflict with US and Japan
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Xi that he “abhors” the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute. He referred to a 2016 international arbitration ruling which found China’s maritime claim to the sea had no legal basis.
“This does not speak well of the relations between our nations,” said Duterte, who will leave office next year and has been criticized in the past for failing to condemn China’s conduct in the disputed waters.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,