Xi Says China’s Military Expansion Not Aimed at Asian Hegemony

President Xi Jinping defended the buildup of China’s armed forces, saying that the nation will never seek “hegemony or expansion” in the Asia-Pacific region even as it steps up its diplomatic and military presence.

In a speech yesterday in Berlin, Xi called on nations to seek “mutual understanding” with China, which he said has pursued a foreign policy of peace. He said his government wouldn’t be an aggressor in the South China Sea, where China has staked a claim to almost all of the body of water against competing countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“We will not provoke trouble ourselves, but we do not fear trouble provoked by others,” Xi said in response to a question following the address sponsored by the Koerber Foundation. “When it comes to our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we will safeguard these interests.”

Three weeks after the central government announced a 12.2 percent increase in military spending, Xi said his nation would seek friendly relations in the region. The buildup of high-tech weapons and military hardware is “purely normal” to ensure the world’s most populous nation can defend its interests, he said.

The Chinese leader evoked the country’s past as the victim of colonial aggression, and cited Japanese atrocities during World War II as something “still fresh in our memory.”

Relations between China and Japan have been strained by a dispute over islands in the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors the country’s fallen soldiers, including war criminals.

‘Terrifying Mephisto’

In the South China Sea, Xi said China’s stance has been in “strict accordance” with international law. The U.S. has said it doesn’t recognize China’s “nine-dash line” that the country uses to claim a large swath of the waters rich in oil and gas.

China has “taken steps to manage disputes, to prevent the dispute from escalating and leading to tensions,” Xi said. “Building amicable and friendly relations with neighbors is the only right choice, both in philosophical and emotional terms.”

Xi, who said China would become a “modern socialist country” by mid-century, dismissed perceptions that the nation’s economic might makes it a threat.

Those with this view “portray China as being the terrifying Mephisto, who would someday suck the soul of the world,” Xi said, speaking through a translator. That outlook “couldn’t be more ridiculous, yet some people regrettably are never tired of preaching it.”