BOAO, China — With pressure growing on Beijing to get North Korea to step back from its war-like footing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that no one country should be allowed to upset world peace and added China would work to reduce tensions over regional hotspots.
In a speech to a regional business forum with political leaders from Australia to Zambia present, Xi did not offer any concrete plans for how to deal with China's neighbor, North Korea, which has elevated regional tensions through war-like rhetoric and missile deployments in recent weeks. Nor did Xi offer concessions to other neighbors locked in fraught disputes with Beijing over outlying islands: Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
It isn't clear whether Xi was taking a swipe at North Korea or at the United States, a frequent target of Chinese criticism, when he criticized unilateral acts that threaten stability.
"The international community should advocate the vision of comprehensive security and cooperative security, so as to turn the global village into a big stage for common development rather than an arena where gladiators fight each other. And no one should be allowed to throw the region, or even the whole world, into chaos for selfish gains," Xi said Sunday at the Boao Forum for Asia, a China-sponsored talk shop for the global elite.
Ambiguity aside, Xi's speech stands in contrast to more strident remarks he has made in recent months and marks an effort to strike an active, cooperative posture to calm regional tensions. This year's Boao meeting – an annual event billed as Asia's version of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – is being watched for signs of whether Xi, installed in power five months ago, is ready to stake out new directions in a foreign policy that has been bullying toward some neighbors and passive on many international security issues.
The new Xi government is being especially challenged over North Korea. Pyongyang's ratcheting up of tensions in recent months – from tests of a long-range missile and a nuclear device to threats of nuclear strikes – have concerned South Korea and the United States, important economic partners for China which have looked to Beijing to rein in its longtime, if estranged communist ally.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, whose economy has been booming due to Chinese demand, appealed to Beijing to use its leverage to get Pyongyang to climb down.
"All countries in the region share a deep interest in strategic stability. But the consequences of conflict are even more severe for us all. This is nowhere more clear than on the Korean Peninsula. There, any aggression is a threat to the interest of every country in the region. For this reason, I do welcome the growing cooperation of all regional governments to prevent conflict on the Korean Peninsula and to counter North Korean aggression," Gillard told the forum.
Outside of North Korea, expectations of any change in Chinese policy have been focused on Japan. Months of friction over East China Sea islands led to frosty political ties, tense cat-and-mouse games between their maritime forces and flagging trade between the world's second and third largest economies.
Xi didn't address any dispute by name but he promised a constructive approach to regional tensions.
"China will continue to properly handle differences and frictions with the relevant countries," Xi said in his speech. "On international and regional hotspot issues, China will continue to play a constructive role, adhere to peace and facilitating talks and make unremitting efforts to properly handle relevant issues through dialogue and negotiations."
Still, Xi did not present any compromise. He insisted that China would safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, language that makes it harder for Beijing to back away from territorial claims.
Xi also reminded countries that China represents a good business opportunity for neighbors and the world, saying over the next five years China's imports will reach $10 trillion while its companies plan to invest $500 billion overseas. "The more China develops, the more opportunities for development it brings the world and Asia," Xi said.