BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Politburo on Wednesday the country wanted to resolve its maritime territorial disputes peacefully and through talks, but would not compromise on sovereignty and had to step up its defensive capabilities.
Territorial claims by Japan and China over the uninhabited islets and resource-rich waters in the East China Sea, as well as China's claims over the South China Sea, rank as some of Asia's biggest security risks.
At a meeting with members of the ruling Communist Party's inner elite, Xi said China would adhere to the path of peaceful development, but "in no way will the country abandon its legitimate rights and interests, nor will it give up its core national interests", state media reported.
China will "use peaceful means and negotiations to settle disputes and strive to safeguard peace and stability", Xi was quoted as saying, without naming any countries. His comments were the most high-level remarks on the subject in weeks.
"China will prepare to cope with complexities, enhance its capacity in safeguarding maritime rights and interests, and resolutely safeguard its maritime rights and interests," Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency report.
Becoming a maritime power is an "important task" for China as "the oceans and seas have an increasingly important strategic status concerning global competition in the spheres of politics, economic development, military, and scientific and technology", Xi said.
Still, the country will adhere to a policy of "shelving disputes and carrying out joint development" for areas over which China claims sovereignty, while also promoting mutually beneficial and friendly cooperation, Xi added, repeating a line offered previously by Chinese officials.
Japan's top career diplomat met China's foreign minister on Tuesday in the latest bid to ease strains between Asia's two biggest economies over their bitter territorial row in the East China Sea, though a Chinese official newspaper said Beijing had ruled out a leaders' summit.
Tension over the East China Sea has escalated this year, with China and Japan scrambling fighter jets and ordering patrol ships to shadow each other, raising fear that a miscalculation could lead to a broader clash.
The Philippines and Vietnam have also accused Beijing of becoming more aggressive in their disputes with China in the strategically located and energy-rich South China Sea.
China is rapidly developing an impressive blue water naval capacity to project power far from its shores, developing new warships and submarines and launching its first aircraft carrier.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)