Chinese Leader Xi Defends Beijing’s Actions in South China Sea Amid Heightened Regional Aggression

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
November 22, 2021 Updated: November 22, 2021

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said at a recent summit that China will not “bully” smaller countries, amid growing scrutiny over its escalated military activities in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Xi made the claim during a virtual summit on Nov. 22 between China and leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), commemorating the 30th anniversary of the relations between the two sides. Xi was the host of the summit.

“China firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics. China pursues long-term, friendly coexistence with neighboring countries,” Xi said, according to China’s state-run media.

“China will never seek hegemony, still less bully smaller countries,” Xi added. “China was, is, and will always be ASEAN’s good neighbor, good friend and good partner.” 

Xi’s words came a week after the Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and used water cannons on two Filipino supply boats that were heading toward a Philippine-occupied shoal in the disputed South China Sea in a resupply mission.

The incident drew a sharp rebuke from Manila, telling the Chinese vessels to “take the heed and back off.”

The U.S. government also criticized Beijing, calling the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified,” while warning that an armed attack on Philippine ships would invoke U.S. defense commitments under the bilateral defense treaty.

Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (also known as Myanmar), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnman are ASEAN members.

China is currently locking horns with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan in a territorial dispute over reefs, islands, and atolls in the South China Sea. A 2016 international ruling rejected the Chinese regime’s “nine-dash line” claim to about 85 percent of the South China Sea’s 2.2 million square miles.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the virtual summit that he “abhors” the incident involving Chinese vessels and “views with grave concern other similar developments,” according to the Philippine News Agency.

“This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership,” he said.

Duerte added that the sea dispute should be resolved in accordance with the 2016 international ruling and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh gave a speech at the summit and emphasized the importance of UNCLOS as a guideline to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, according to Vietnamese broadcaster Voice of Vietnam.

Vietnam has also faced the Chinese regime’s aggression in recent years. In July last year, more than a dozen crew members onboard a Vietnamese fishing boat were forced to jump overboard after their ship was rammed by a Chinese vessel.

In July this year, Vietnam protested against a Chinese exploration plan in the South China Sea, saying the proposed research activities “infringe upon Vietnamese sovereignty.”

China’s regional aggression is not limited to the South China Sea. For years, the communist regime has deployed intimidation and coercion tactics against Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under its rule through military actions.

Taiwan is a de facto independent country with its own democratically-elected government officials, constitution, military, and currency.

Most recently, Chinese military jets have entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone for 18 consecutive days since Nov. 4, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry. The latest intrusion, on Nov. 21, involved nine Chinese military planes, which consisted of six fighter jets, two bombers, and one airborne early warning and control aircraft.

In response, Taiwan dispatched aircraft, issued radio warnings, and deployed air defense missile systems to monitor the Chinese military jets.

In October, U.S. President Joe Biden took part in a virtual summit with ASEAN leaders. According to the White House, Biden pledged to deepen cooperation with the region, to defend against threats to international rules-based order.

Reuters contributed to the article. 

Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.