Xi made his statement at a virtual summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The group includes: Burma, Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, but Burma (Myanmar) was not represented.
“China is and will always be a good neighbor, good friend and good partner of ASEAN,” said Xi, quoted by Chinese state media. He assured that China would not use its size to force smaller countries to make concessions.
Commentators attribute these assurances to the mounting tensions in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing’s territorial claims for almost all of this sea run counter to those of several other countries in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Last week, an incident involving Chinese and Filipino ships took place in the disputed basin. Authorities in Manila strongly condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard units that used water cannons against two Philippine Navy supply ships.
The US administration assessed the performance of Chinese units as “Dangerous, provocative and unjustified.” She warned that an armed attack on Philippine ships would trigger the launch of US defense commitments.
Washington accuses China of pursuing “coercive diplomacy”, denying other countries access to marine resources, and attempting to militarize the South China Sea, which could be used to limit the freedom of navigation in this basin.
The communist authorities in Beijing, on the other hand, accuse the US government of using “cold war thinking” and interfering in the affairs of Southeast Asian countries and their relations with China. Xi told leaders that ASEAN had “warded off the gloom of the Cold War” and maintained stability in the region. A representative of Burma did not participate in Monday’s ASEAN summit, he said boss MFA of Malaysia Saifuddin Abdullah.
ASEAN excluded in October from participating in the virtual forum bossand the Burmese military government of Min Aung Hlaing for not following a previously agreed peace plan. The military junta toppled Burma’s democratic government on February 1 and has since brutally suppressed public protests.