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China says Pacific not sphere of influence of any country

BEIJING (AP) — Islands in the South Pacific don’t fall within any country’s sphere of influence, a Chinese diplomat said Tuesday, amid growing resistance to Beijing’s efforts to broaden its footprint in a region long dominated by the United States, Australia and their allies.

Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said other countries should abandon what he called a “Cold War mentality and the zero-sum game mentality which are both outdated.”

Asian leaders are meeting this month in Singapore and Papua New Guinea.

“The Pacific island region is not a sphere of influence of any country,” Zheng told reporters at a news briefing. “And we hope that all can contribute more to the development of the island countries’ economies, the improvement of their peoples’ livelihoods and contribute to the peace and stability of this region.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea and also travel to Brunei and the Philippines, both of which have territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

China is seeking to boost trade and investment with both Brunei and U.S. treaty partner the Philippines, while also competing with Australia and the U.S. for influence with Papua New Guinea. Two U.S. Navy ships have paid port calls to Papua New Guinea in recent weeks, while Australia is jointly investing in a naval base on one of the nation’s islands.

The rivalry plays into China’s efforts to build its standing in the Western Pacific and South China Sea, where it has militarized man-made islands to back up its claim to virtually the entire strategic waterway.

China’s efforts to help craft a “code of conduct” among other South China Sea claimants featured in remarks by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that brings together leaders from the U.S. and across the region.

“I want to reaffirm here that China will stay firm on the course of peaceful development,” Li said. “What we hope is to have a harmonious relationship with our neighbors and together, we benefit from our good neighborliness.”

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