China military
A poll indicates most Chinese citizens believe their country will be at war with Japan in coming years. Getty Images

Despite accusations by its neighbors that China is conducting provocative military actions in disputed waters, President Xi Jinping vowed Monday that his country won't use force to achieve its goals. During a lengthy speech to the Australian Parliament after the G20 Summit, Xi addressed China’s maritime disputes, currently unfolding in the seas around the country, striking a peaceful tone that sounds somewhat at odds with a Chinese military that has not ruled out conflict.

“A review of history shows that countries that attempted to pursue development with force invariably failed,” Xi said during his speech. “This is what history teaches us. China is dedicated to upholding peace. Peace is precious and needs to be protected.”

“It is China’s longstanding position to address peacefully its disputes with countries concerned and territorial sovereignty and maritime interest through dialogue and consultation,” he added.

But surveillance and defense in the South China Sea and East China Sea remain a priority for Xi. “We must always be on high alert against the factors that may deprive us of peace.”

Developments within the People’s Liberation Army, whose budget is growing, suggest that it is equipping itself to handle more than just surveillance of China maritime frontiers.

A recent report by The Diplomat highlighted that East Asian armed forces, including China's, are expanding their amphibious assault capabilities, raising the stakes around territorial disputes involving China. China disputes sovereignty of various small islands and offshore areas with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, among other neighbors.

Hawkish Chinese military scholars also espouse views less pacific than the president's official utterances. In an op-ed in China’s state-run Global Times, Hu Xundong, a professor at the PLA’s National Defense University, said “large-scale military power” needs to be developed to prevent being forced into “a passive position” by other countries.