State Councilor and Defense Minister General Li Shangfu called on Sunday for regional countries to stay highly vigilant and firmly reject the actions of some countries outside the South China Sea, which exercise "hegemony of navigation "in the name of "freedom of navigation".
He warned that those countries just want to "muddy the waters" of the South China Sea to "rake in profits".
The defense chief made the remarks in his speech delivered at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a day after United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the security forum that the US will continue to work with allies and partners to uphold "freedom of navigation and overflight" in the South China Sea.
However, Li rejected such a claim, saying, "Every year, tens of thousands of ships from different countries sail through the South China Sea, transporting a total of $3.5 trillion of goods to all parts of the world".
"We have never heard of any of these ships having any trouble passing through or facing any security threats."
Thanks to the concerted efforts of countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea has generally remained stable, and regional exchanges and cooperation have grown stronger, Li said.
He stressed that this sound momentum on greater stability must not be disrupted, noting that solidarity among regional countries needs to be cherished.
"It is natural for neighbors to disagree with each other from time to time, and countries in the region are engaging in communication and consultation for proper settlement of differences," said Li on relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"However, some countries outside the region keep sowing discord among us and fanning the flame," he warned. "We need to stay clear-eyed and level-headed over the benefits and risks."
China will be working with other regional countries, fully and effectively, to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and push forward negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the region, so as to build the South China Sea into an area of "peace, friendship and cooperation", the defense minister said.