A senior member of China's military on Sunday defended the country's territorial claims in the South China Sea, but acknowledged the need for rules and consultation to prevent maritime incidents.
"What concerns us are unexpected accidents," Lieutenant-General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told an Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore. "We need to formulate rules and norms, so that when have an encounter, we will have rules that we can abide by."
Vietnam and China exchanged accusations last week over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat not far from where China has placed an oil rig in the disputed South China Sea amid rising tensions between the Asian neighbors over the drilling platform.
Wang said speeches by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the IISS Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, had violated the peaceful spirit of the forum and constituted "a provocative action against China."
On Saturday, Hagel said that while the U.S. had no position on territorial claims in Asia, it would not "look the other way" if the international order was challenged.
A day earlier, Abe told the conference that Tokyo would offer support to countries in Southeast Asia aiming to protect their seas and airspace.
Wang, however, added that China was working closely with the U.S. and that "major progress" had been made in establishing mutual notification mechanisms and setting standards for military activities in the open seas.
China claims almost all of the South China Seas, an area rich in oil and gas, and dismisses rival claims from Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.
It is also involved in a territorial spat with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.
Responding to audience requests that he clarify the infamous Nine Dash Line delineating China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, Wang asserted that China's historical claims to the Xisha and Nansha islands, stretched back some 2,000 years and effectively pre-dated the 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Noting that the Law of the Sea was a large and complex system, Wang argued that UNCLOS was "not the only point of reference" when it came to "the adjustment of sovereignty" over islands and seas, and said that China was prepared to "negotiate directly" with the individual countries involved.
Wang also said the U.S. had used UNCLOS as a "weapon" against China, and pointed out that while China had ratified the document, the United States had not.
He added that China was a "responsible major country" and that both major and minor countries had a role to play in maintaining regional security.
"Major countries shoulder major responsibilities for maintaining security and stability of the Asia-Pacific, while medium and small countries can also play a constructive role," Wang said.
Noting that China contributed more than 50 percent of Asia's economic growth in 2013, Wang said that development was the key to resolving regional security issues.
He added that China would work with other countries to promote prosperity in the region.