Premier Li Keqiang addresses the China-Greece Maritime Cooperation Forum in Athens, capital of Greece, June 20, 2014.[Photo/Xinhua]
Nation expects to play role in navigational freedom, Premier Li tells forum in Athens
China is committed to resolving maritime disputes with other countries peacefully and does not seek maritime hegemony, Premier Li Keqiang said on June 20.
In the first speech by a Chinese leader outlining the country’s views on maritime affairs during an overseas visit, Li stressed that Beijing expects to contribute to navigational freedom.
Analysts said such freedom is needed to guarantee China’s maritime interests and to fulfill its aim of becoming a strong maritime country.
“We will resolutely adhere to the path of peaceful development and oppose maritime hegemony,” Li said at a forum on marine cooperation between China and Greece. He arrived in Athens from Britain on June 19 for a three-day visit.
“We will commit ourselves to solving maritime disputes with parties directly involved through direct talks and negotiation based on respect of historical facts and international law,” he said.
Li also cited Greece as an example of how a maritime nation can benefit from close maritime cooperation with a distant country.
“Greece lent a hand with three rounds of massive evacuations of Chinese citizens abroad. Scenes of more than 13,000 Chinese being evacuated smoothly from Libya are still deeply etched on the hearts of Chinese people,” Li said.
He was referring to Greek efforts to assist China in pulling its citizens out of the North African country amid unrest in 2011.
Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Li’s remarks closely follow President Xi Jinping’s speech at a regional summit in May, in which he introduced China’s security views.
Cui said Li’s speech comes as some countries try to determine the aim of Beijing’s policy to build a strong maritime nation. It also comes amid tensions with some of China’s neighbors over sea disputes.
“Greece is the cradle of marine civilization and a major maritime power. It is the perfect place and time for Premier Li to talk about the guidelines of China’s marine policies.”
Ruan Zongze, vice-director of the China Institute of International Studies, said China seeks peace and mutual benefits at sea, which can guarantee the legal interests of all parties involved.
“The maritime views are basically in line with the new security concept proposed by President Xi, which highlights common security and that one country cannot sacrifice others’ security for its own,” Ruan said.
Before Li’s speech, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed that harmony and stability, which both ancient Chinese and Greek thinkers advocated, are extremely important for bilateral cooperation.
Saying that Greece had been unstable amid the debt crisis two years ago, Samaras said that he and the Greek people know just how much stability matters.
“Now we are approaching recovery, and I think maritime cooperation between China and Greece will bring China and Europe closer to each other.”
Christos Vlachos, managing partner at Silky Finance, a consultancy company in Athens, was among the business leaders listening to the speech.
Vlachos said he has been following the disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea and feels that China has been trying to solve them constructively.
“Premier Li has stressed such points in his speech, which I respect,” he said.
Theo C. Theophylactos, chief executive officer of Mediterranean Riviera in Athens, said he was impressed by Li’s message of peaceful use of the sea.
“We have been assured that China will observe this principle as always and I hope other parties involved in the disputes will do the same,” Theophylactos said.
“Only peace at sea can guarantee cooperation and development, and as a company that advocates exploring marine resources in an integrated way, we know the significance of Li’s points.
“China’s development miracle has proved it is right. We also hope that China and Greece can deepen maritime cooperation and set an example for other countries,” he added.