China dismisses 'militarisation' of disputed islands in South China Sea

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took a break from trade discussions to kick back at the Australian Football League match in Sydney.

Premier Li Keqiang meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Thursday. "Even if there is a certain amount of defense equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight". The comments came during his five-day visit to Australia, where Li arrived Wednesday night.

The two leaders are likely to sign a multitude of trade and exchange agreements and move forward in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

He stressed that it is the responsibility of all countries in the region to maintain peace in the South China Sea, which is disputed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, with the United States having also increased its presence.

"With respect to the so-called militarisation, China never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea", Mr Li told reporters through an interpreter.

"Hopefully some progress will be made, because of course every time China does a free trade agreement with another country, they can end up getting better results".

"China's facilities, Chinese islands and reefs, are primarily for civilian purposes". He said aircraft and ships that transit through the South China Sea were from trading partners with Beijing, "so one can easily imagine how many Chinese interests are at stake here".

"I don't see a lot that is new in Li's statement, this is a consistent position from China".

China has drawn global criticism for large-scale building in the South China Sea, although Li told reporters in Australia the development was for civilian purposes only.

"Australia, because of its security element with the US, is a particularly important element in China's managing the new circumstances and its relationships with the USA", said Peter Drysdale, professor and head of the Australian National University's East Asia Bureau of Economic Research.

Turnbull and Li attended a ceremony on Friday where China State Construction Engineering Corp Ltd tentatively agreed to build a new port and rail line for a yet-to-be-approved iron ore mine in the state of Western Australia.

Commentators saw Mr Li's comments as a response to a recent speech by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said in Singapore last week that China's lack of democracy will prevent it from reaching its economic potential. "Some Australian government officials have already expressed a not very favorable attitude (to China's construction work)". However, the country has defended its actions saying it is only adding to the region's defense.

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