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Active in disputes, China's president promotes peace

| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:54 p.m.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right invites Myanmar President Thein Sein to sit at a commemoration of 60 years since their countries agreed to principles of peaceful coexistence, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Saturday, June 28, 2014. Xi said Saturday his country will never seek hegemony no matter how strong it becomes, even as his neighbors worry about Beijing's actions in several territorial disputes. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping deployed an unusual defense on Saturday of China's foreign and military policies: the celebration of an obscure, decades-old treaty called the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.”

Alongside Myanmar's president and India's vice president, Xi presided over an event replete with lofty ideals. Ostensibly, the ceremony's goal was to commemorate the treaty's 60th anniversary. But it also served as an attempt to rebut criticism and concern from Asian and American leaders over China's recent territorial claims.

In a speech about the principles, Xi outlined China's basic framework for foreign policy. Much of his speech stressed China's peaceful nature and focused on the concept of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. But Xi declared that “no infringement upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country is allowed.”

To many Asian leaders, China's foreign policy of late has been anything but aimed at peaceful coexistence. China has engaged in volatile confrontations with several neighbors over claims in the South China Sea.

Riots broke out last month in Vietnam after China installed an oil rig in disputed waters. China's navy remains in a standoff with the Philippines over a region called the Scarborough Shoal. And China's relations with Japan have been tense since China last year declared an air defense identification zone over disputed islands. The United States, Japan's ally, promptly responded by sending two bombers through the zone.

Meanwhile, American attempts to pivot military and diplomatic attention from the Middle East toward Asia have elicited one consistent response from China: butt out of Asian affairs. Without naming the United States, Xi made pointed remarks on the doomed policies of any country seeking to impose its will on others.

“We should respect the right of a country to choose its own social system and model of development,” he said, “and oppose the attempt for the purpose of seeking self-interest or imposing one's own views to oust a legitimate leadership of a government through illegal means.”

Some of Xi's comments, however, seemed to fly in the face of China's increased aggression in recent years as its military and economic might have grown.

“Flexing military muscles only reveals the lack of moral grounds or vision rather than reflecting one's strength,” Xi said.

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