Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’  leaders that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbour, as he announced the establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the 10-country bloc.

Xi was chairing the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-Asean Dialogue Relations via video link on Monday morning.The group comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with Asean to eliminate “interference”, Xi, was quoted by Chinese official media as saying amid rising tension with a number of littoral Asean states over the South China Sea.

A  Reuters report said, The United States called the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative and unjustified” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke US mutual defence commitments.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte struck an angry note at the regional summit when he said that he “abhors” a recent altercation with Chinese ships in the South China Sea  and said the rule of law was the only way out of problems.

 Speaking at the summit, Xi said: “We need to pursue dialogue instead of confrontation, build partnerships instead of alliances. China firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics. China will never seek hegemony, still less bully smaller countries.”

China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the SCS has set it against Asean members Vietnam and the Philippines while Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway region, are also part of the ongoing dispute.

 China is ready to provide with another $1.5 billion in development assistance in the next three years to support Asean countries’ fight against Covid-19 and economic recovery, Xi said.The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar, reports said.

“China supports Asean’s efforts to build a nuclear weapons-free zone and is prepared to sign the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone as soon as possible,” Xi said.

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