China pledges more dialogue on regional conflicts

By Christopher Bodeen, AP

BEIJING–China’s defense minister said Friday he wants to enhance dialogue to manage disputes with his country’s neighbors, sounding a conciliatory note after years of sharpened confrontations over territorial claims on land and sea.

Chang Wanquan said in a speech to a security forum in Beijing that China is considering opening defense hotlines with its Southeast Asian neighbors. Four of them, including Vietnam and the Philippines, are involved in disputes with Beijing over territory in the South China Sea.

China’s dispatch of ships and planes to assert those claims has significantly raised regional tensions over the past year, especially this summer when Chinese and Vietnamese boats sparred over the towing of a Chinese drilling platform into disputed waters. Beijing is also at odds with Japan and India over territory, but has lately worked to reduce friction.

��The key is to strengthen management and effectively prevent and resolve crises,�� Chang told participants at the fifth Xiangshan Forum.

China raised the forum’s profile this year by inviting international media and high-level guests. Beijing also is in the middle of a diplomatic push to expand its ��soft power�� overseas, hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering and sending President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiaing on high-profile visits abroad.

The moves are in part to assuage suspicions about China’s fast-growing and traditionally secretive military, which is now adding nuclear-powered submarines, stealth fighters and aircraft carriers. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is already the world’s largest standing military with 2.3 million members.

Chang said China’s booming defense budgets are aimed at modernizing and better cooperating with other countries on natural disasters and terrorism.

The forum’s more than 200 participants came from four dozen countries, ranging from Australia to Saudi Arabia.

Former PLA head of foreign affairs Qian Lihua said China is working to ease tensions with Japan, India, Vietnam and other countries.

��It will take time, but we’re working toward building trust between all the countries in Asia,�� Qian told The Associated Press.