China has vowed to continue military patrols of waters where it has territorial claims, amid rows with neighbours over the South China Sea and islands controlled by Japan.

Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, the deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, said the patrols were legitimate and China's sovereignty was undisputed.

"Why are Chinese warships patrolling in East China Sea and South China Sea? I think we are all clear about this," Qi told a security conference in Singapore.

"They are in our Chinese sovereignty. We are very clear about that. So the Chinese warships and the patrolling activities are totally legitimate."

Qi was responding to a question from a delegate after he gave a speech in which he sought to assure neighbouring countries that China has no hegemonic ambitions.

"China has never taken foreign expansion and military conquering as a state policy," he said.

Historical disputes

China is locked in a territorial dispute with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

The four states have partial claims but China says it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the sea, including waters and territories much closer to other countries and thousands of kilometres from the Chinese coast.

China also has a dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea.

Manila last month protested at what it called the "provocative and illegal presence" of a Chinese warship near Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by Philippine troops.

China and Vietnam fought in 1974 and 1988 for control of islands in battles that left dozens of soldiers dead.

Maritime disputes and the risks of them sparking a military conflict were a key theme during the two-day conference that ended Sunday.

Source: Agencies