The Wall Street Journal Friday, 11 April 2014- Premier Li Keqiang delivered a warning to Southeast Asian countries with whom China is embroiled in territorial disputes, saying that China will "respond firmly to provocations."
His remarks, in a speech also peppered with calls for regional cooperation, follow a move by the Philippines last month to challenge China's claims to almost the entire South China Sea at a United Nations arbitration panel in The Hague, a legal gambit that has enraged China.
They also come U.S. officials harden their rhetoric against China's increasing assertiveness in the region. This week, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that this behavior risked conflict.
In a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, Mr. Li combined a strong message regarding China's sovereignty claims with soothing words aimed at reassuring a region that is growing nervous about China's military intentions.
"I wish to emphasize that China is committed to peaceful development," he told delegates to the forum on Hainan, a southern island province through which China asserts sweeping administrative control over large tracts of the South China Sea.
"We will give full support to initiatives that help strengthen maritime cooperation," he said.
"On the other hand, we will respond firmly to provocations that undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea." He added: "We Chinese believe in repaying kindness with kindness and meeting wrongdoing with justice."