China urges peaceful development of seas, says conflict leads to "disaster"

SHANGHAI Fri Jun 20, 2014 11:38pm EDT

China's Premier Li Keqiang addresses journalists during a joint news briefing with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (not pictured) in Athens June 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

China's Premier Li Keqiang addresses journalists during a joint news briefing with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (not pictured) in Athens June 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China, involved in a growing dispute with its neighbors over the energy-rich South China Sea, wants to promote peaceful development of the oceans, Premier Li Keqiang said, warning conflicts in the past had only brought "disaster for humanity".

China claims almost the entire ocean, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei in one of Asia's most intractable disputes and a possible flashpoint. It also has a long-running dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.

"China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development and firmly oppose any act of hegemony in maritime affairs," Li said at a maritime summit in Greece on Friday in comments carried by China's Foreign Ministry website on Saturday.

"Developing the oceans through cooperation has helped many nations flourish, while resorting to conflict to fight over the sea has only brought disaster for humanity."

Concern over China's motives has risen in the region after China sent four more oil rigs into the South China Sea, less than two months after it positioned a giant drilling platform in waters claimed by Vietnam around the Paracel Islands.

The lack of any breakthrough in the dispute suggests China and Vietnam are far from resolving one of the worst breakdowns in relations since they fought a brief war in 1979.

Among the obstacles is Beijing's demand for compensation for anti-Chinese riots that erupted in Vietnam after the drilling platform was deployed at the beginning of May.

Speaking at a forum in Beijing on Saturday, China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who visited Vietnam this week to discuss the rig dispute, said China had both the patience and sincerity to push for talks to resolve such spats.

But China would not sacrifice its sovereignty, he added.

"China will not trade its core interests and will not swallow the bitter pill of harming China's sovereignty, security and development interests," said Yang, who outranks the foreign minister.

China's state news agency Xinhua, in a report late on Friday, accused Vietnam of encouraging trawlers to fish in disputed waters around the Paracel Islands by using financial incentives, saying the problem was rampant.

"Vietnamese seized by Chinese law enforcement authorities for illegal fishing confessed that they were given large subsidies by the Vietnamese government to fish in 'disputed waters'," Xinhua said in the English-language report.

"In addition, armed Vietnamese fishing vessels have repeatedly looted Chinese fishing boats, posing a serious threat to the safety of Chinese fishermen's lives and property," it added.

The Philippines said this week it will ask an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague to make a speedy ruling on its dispute with China over exploiting waters in the South China Sea after Beijing refused to take part in the proceedings.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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