China on Sunday defended as “lawful and justified” the construction of major infrastructure projects in the disputed islands and reefs of the South China Sea (SCS) and said it was merely building facilities in its own yard.

During his annual media briefing in Beijing on the sidelines of the legislative session, the National People’s Congress (NPC), Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said its multi-billion Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road projects are different from the post-war United States’ Marshall Plan aimed at assisting its allies.

“China is carrying out necessary construction on its own islands and reefs. The construction does not target or affect anyone. We have every right to do things that are lawful and justified,” Mr. Wang said.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the SCS, which is hotly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. He said China will continue to uphold freedom of navigation in the SCS and to peacefully resolve disputes through direct dialogue and consultation.

On the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road (MSR) for which China set up a $40 billion fund, Mr. Wang said the initiatives were different from the U.S. Marshall Plan launched after the World War II.

The 1948 Act was the post-war plan of the U.S. to provide economic and military assistance to its allies as part of the efforts to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union. “China’s Belt and Road initiatives are both much older and much younger than the Marshall Plan. Comparing one to the other is like comparing apples to oranges,” Mr. Wang said.

The initiatives are older because they embody the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, which has a history of over 2,000 years. The Silk Road Economic Belt is to be established along the ancient Silk Road trade route, stretching northwest from China’s coastal area through Central Asia, the Middle East and on to Europe, while the 21st Century MSR will run through the country’s south to Southeast Asia, state-run Xinhua news agency said in a report.

It is seen as a new initiative by China to counter U.S.’ Asia Pivot strategy under which Washington plans to deploy 60 per cent of its military assets in the region, which Beijing says is aimed at containing its rise.

About relations with U.S., Mr. Wang said this year’s visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Washington will infuse new momentum into the new model of major-country relations between the two countries.

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