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Uphold Peace and Prosperity in South China Sea
2016/05/05

Uphold Peace and Prosperity in South China Sea

H.E. Mr. HUANG Huaguang

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of Tonga

Located between the West Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, the South China Sea is a hub for many international shipping lines. Hundreds of islands and reefs scatter in this area, mainly including Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands and Nansha Islands. The South China Sea islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. The Chinese people were the first to discover, name and develop these islands. It was Chinese government that first exercised sovereignty over them, a practice that has been continued in peaceful and effective manner without interruption.

In 1939, Japan invaded and illegally occupied Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands during the war of aggression against China. After World War II, in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation, the territories Japan had stolen, including Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands, were restored to China. After recovering the Nansha Islands, China reaffirmed sovereignty and strengthened jurisdiction by compiling their official names, publishing maps, setting up administrative units and stationing troops. Before 1970s, it was widely recognized by the international community that the South China Sea Islands belong to China and no country ever challenged this.

Starting from 1970s, since the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia began to claim sovereignty over and occupy China’s Nansha islands and reefs, of which 29 were occupied by Vietnam, eight by the Philippines and five by Malaysia. Thus China became a victim on the South China Sea issue. Nonetheless, in order to uphold regional peace and stability, while keep addressing the sovereignty belongs to China, the Chinese side has all along exercised great restraint, committed itself to resolving the relevant disputes through negotiations and consultations and been against any words or actions that would intensify or expand the disputes in the South China Sea.

However, recently the Philippines unilaterally initiated the South China Sea arbitration and the South China Sea disputes has been intensified and become a focus of the international media. The main purpose of the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines is to legalize its occupation of some islands and reefs in China’s Nansha Island and vainly attempt to occupy these islands and reefs permanently.

As a matter of fact, the scope of the Philippines’ territory is defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris, the 1900 Treaty of Washington and the 1930 Convention between the U.S. and UK. These treaties have clearly defined that 118 degrees east longitude is the western limit of Philippine territory. China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea are all located west of that line. The international community as well as the Philippines all have a clear idea of this. But since 1970s, the Philippines started to pursue territorial expansion by invading and illegally occupied 8 islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands. Now the Philippines intends to use the arbitration to use the arbitration to deny its illegal occupation of China’s territory. This aim would never be realized.

On the South China Sea issue, China is committed to resolving the disputes in a peaceful manner through negotiations and consultations. In 2002, China and ASEAN Member States including the Philippines jointly signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). It stipulates that the Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned. The Philippines government also shared this position as well. Even in 2011, the Philippines still issued a statement jointly with China undertaking to resolve disputes through negotiations and consultations. Just a year later, however, the Philippines unexpectedly initiated the arbitration unilaterally without informing China in advance or acquiring China’s consent, an act which contravened the Philippines’ above mentioned promises and international obligation to China.

Besides, Article 298 of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of Sea excludes disputes concerning maritime delimitation and some other issues from the disputes settlement procedures provided fro in UNCLOS. About 30 countries, including China, UK, France and Australia have made similar declarations, which form an integral part of UNCLOS. So the arbitration system can not be applied to the South China Sea disputes between China and the Philippines. The Philippines, by packaging its claims, maliciously circumventing China’s declaration and unilaterally initiating arbitration, has violated the right to seeking dispute settlement of its own choice that China enjoys as a State Party to UNCLOS.

So the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines is thus illegal and null and void. The Chinese government does not accept or participate in it, and will never recognize the so called “award” of the arbitration.

China has the willingness and capacity to resolve the land and maritime disputes through consultations and negotiations. Based on the good practice of consultations and negotiations, China has signed border treaties with 12 out of 14 land neighbors with over 20,000 kilometers of delineated and demarcated boarders. After more than 20 years of negotiations, China and Vietnam completed the delimitation of maritime boundary in the Beibu Gulf. On the South China Sea issue, we are also committed to resolving the disputes in a peaceful manner, to managing the disputes by establishing rules and mechanisms, to seeking win-win outcomes through joint development and cooperation, and to upholding freedom of navigation and overflight as well as peace and stability in South China Sea. In the past decade since the conclusion of DOC in 2002, China and ASEAN countries have work tirelessly to uphold peace and stability of the South China Sea.

Now China and ASEAN Member States are deeply involved in the negotiations of Code on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC) and major progress has been made. China hope the negotiations shall be the main avenue for the parties to have candid exchange of views of the South China Sea issue, manage difference and conduct cooperation, and these mechanisms have shown strong vitality. We sincerely hope all parties could focus on increasing trust, managing crisis, promoting cooperation and resolving the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and uphold the long peace and prosperity of the South China Sea.

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