Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a key foreign policy speech that the rising Asian nation would protect its sovereign territory, the Xinhua news agency reported, as it faces maritime disputes with several neighbours.

“We should firmly uphold China’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests and national unity,” Xi told a Communist Party meeting on foreign affairs held on Friday and Saturday, according to excerpts of his speech released by Xinhua on Sunday.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained over the past two years after Tokyo nationalised the Senkaku islands — which it already administered — in the East China Sea. Beijing also claims the chain, which it calls the Diaoyu islands.

China and Southeast Asian countries — including Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei — also have competing claims for the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. Taiwan, which China considers part of its sovereign territory, also has a claim to part of the Spratlys.

Xi, both China’s president and Communist Party secretary, added his country would “properly handle territorial and island disputes” but did not name them.

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