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China's Xi issues veiled warning to Asia over military alliances

Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech during a gala dinner ahead of the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measu
Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech during a gala dinner ahead of the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measu

By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to warn some Asian nations on Wednesday about strengthening military alliances to counter China, saying this would not benefit regional security.

But he also pledged to peacefully resolve China's disputes over territory, which have intensified in recent years, especially in the South and East China Seas.

"To beef up military alliances targeted at a third party is not conducive to maintaining common security in the region," Xi said in a speech, following a period when some Asian countries have sought to reaffirm their security ties with Washington.

During a visit to Asia last month, U.S. President Barack Obama also sought to reassure allies such as Japan and the Philippines that his long-promised strategic shift towards Asia and the Pacific, widely seen as aimed at countering China's rising influence, was real.

Xi made his remarks at a regional conference in Shanghai in front of Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan, as well as representatives from the Philippines, Japan and more than 40 other countries and organizations.

He did not mention the United States.

China is embroiled in bitter disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. Beijing and Tokyo are also at loggerheads over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last week after Chinese state oil company CNOOC deployed an oil rig 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Vietnam in waters also claimed by Hanoi. The rig was towed there just days after Obama left the region.

The move was the latest in a series of confrontations between China and some of its neighbors over the potentially oil-and-gas rich South China Sea. Washington has responded with sharpened rhetoric toward Beijing, describing a pattern of "provocative" actions by China.

Xi sought to play down concerns about China's intentions.

"China stays committed to seeking peaceful settlement of disputes with other countries over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests," he said.

His speech was given at a meeting of the little-known Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, or CICA.

China has seized upon its hosting of the forum, launched by Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, to try to build clout in the region and beyond. Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran both attended.

State broadcaster China Central Television aired live the arrival of various leaders for the meeting, but underscoring the sensitivity of China's territorial disputes it cut away from images of Xi shaking hands with the representatives from Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan.

Xi said a zero-sum, "Cold War" concept of security where one country gains at the expense of others would not work.

"We cannot just have the security of one or some countries while leaving the rest insecure," Xi said, adding that one should not "seek the so-called absolute security of itself at the expense of the security of others".

"No country should attempt to dominate regional security affairs," he said.

Metallurgical Corp of China Ltd (MCC) said on Wednesday that four of its employees working on a construction project in Vietnam were killed and 126 injured during the anti-China protests last week.

The Chinese and Vietnamese governments had put the death toll at two with 100 or more injured.

(Editing by Dean Yates)

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