Chinese Defense Minister
China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan (Image source: Reuters)

China’s defense minister said on Friday that he is willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) covering accidental encounters and search and rescue.

China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea. Beijing’s increasingly assertive tone in pushing territorial claims resulted to a strained relations with several Southeast Asian countries especially the Philippines and Vietnam.

Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told his counterparts from all 10 members of the ASEAN at a summit in Beijing that all parties involved needed to push for the “correct” development of ties.

Last year China’s increasing creation of artificial islands draws strong criticism from Washington.

The Philippines welcomed the possibility of joint naval drills with China, especially if they can provide proof that the islands have no military purpose.

“That’s a good idea, we welcome that proposal,” the commander said, declining to be named. “It would be good if China will open its artificial islands, allow us to dock there and visit these islands.”

China denies it has militarized the South China Sea, saying construction work is mostly for civilian purposes.

The United States says, under international law, that building up artificial islands on previously submerged reefs does not entitle a country to claim a territorial limit and that it is vital to maintain freedom of navigation.