Beijing: Reacting cautiously over the joint naval exercise being held by India and Singapore in the disputed South China Sea, China on Friday said such activities should not hurt the "interests of other countries".
"If such exchanges and cooperation are for the benefit of regional peace and security, then we have no opposition," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a media briefing here. "We have a very open attitude to normal exchanges between various countries," she said when asked for China's reaction to the joint naval exercise of India and Singapore.
China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS), including islands more than 800 miles from the Chinese mainland, despite objections from neighbours such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
"We just hope that when the relevant countries conduct such exchanges and cooperation, they should bear in mind such activities should not hurt the interests of other countries or have any negative impact to regional peace and stability," Hua said outlining Beijing's sensitivities.
Navies of India and Singapore on Thursday began a seven-day-long mega maritime exercise in the SCS which has been witnessing a growing Chinese assertiveness. Four warships of the Indian Navy and long range anti-submarine warfare aircraft P-8l are participating in the SIMBEX (Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise), which is aimed at increasing interoperability between the two navies.
Held since 1994, it is the 24th edition of the annual exercise between the two countries. Beijing expresses strong opposition whenever US naval ships pass through the area, even though it maintains there is no threat to freedom of navigation.
India along with the US and many other countries have been vocal about freedom of navigation in the area as foreign trade worth over a trillion dollar move through the SCS. China in the past has opposed India taking part in the oil exploration in the SCS at the invitation of Vietnam.
India has earlier taken part in the Malabar naval exercises with Japan and the US in the East China Sea. In the recent months, tension over the SCS abated after new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte scaled down Manila's emphasis on its SCS claims even after it won an international tribunal award last year.
The tribunal struck down China's expansive claims over the area based on historical hold. China had rejected the verdict. After his election, Duterte opted for peace with China in favour of Chinese investments.
China and ASEAN members yesterday approved the framework of the SCS Code of Conduct (COC), a crucial step towards peacefully resolving territorial disputes in the area. The 14th Senior Officials' Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, held yesterday in Guizhou province's Guiyang city, reviewed and approved the COC framework draft.
A Chinese foreign ministry press release said yesterday that all the parties have agreed to peacefully resolve the SCS disputes through negotiations and dialogue. They also agreed to work through their differences under the framework of regional regulations.