China’s diplomacy will assume “a more active posture” in the coming year, which includes setting up infrastructure overseas to protect China’s expanding global interests, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Outlining China’s diplomatic priorities for the coming year during the on-going annual session of the National People’s Congress or Parliament, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his annual press briefing that China would be “more active” in protecting its interests, but “will not take the old path of expansionism travelled by traditional powers”.
In November, Beijing said it was in discussion with Djibouti to open its first overseas military logistics facility, on the Gulf of Aden. In a strategic location that will give the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) access to the Indian Ocean where it is has been carrying out anti-piracy patrols, the logistics facility will “help Chinese vessels better carry out UN operations like escort missions and humanitarian assistance”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said last year.
The move led some experts to ask if China was reconsidering its policy of not setting up overseas military bases, although the government termed the Djibouti facility as a “logistics centre”, rather than a base.
Asked about the Djibouti facility, Wang said China was “trying to build necessary infrastructure and logistic capacities in a region where there is a concentration of Chinese interests.”
“I think it is not just reasonable and logical but also consistent with international practice,” he added, pointing out that China’s overseas commercial interests were growing, with outbound FDI reaching $ 118 billion last year and overseas stock assets reaching “several thousand billion dollars”.
Wang said over the past year Beijing had made “notable progress” in taking forward President Xi Jinping’s pet Silk Road initiative, with 70 countries now signing on.
Among the projects that had made notable headway, he said, were the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – which connects Xinjiang, through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea – and the China-Mongolia corridor he said. Wang didn’t mention the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor, which in comparison has been slow to take off.
On the tensions in the South China Sea, the Foreign Minister defended China’s moves to beef up infrastructure on contested islands and reefs, saying Beijing was “exercising our right to self-preservation and self-defence under international law”.
“China is not the first country to have deployed weapons in the Nansha [Spratly] islands. We are not the country that has deployed the most weapons and we are not the country that conducts most frequent military activities,” he said.
Wang hit out at the United States, which has accused China of militarising the islands and has angered Beijing by carrying out freedom of navigations operations (FONOPs) to challenge Chinese claims. Wang said “this label [of militarization] is more suited to some other countries”. “I want to remind some people,” he added, “that freedom of navigation does not give licence to do what they want”.