The South China Sea Issue: Stop Stirring the Clean Water

0
656

It is reported that the so-called “award” will soon be issued by the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal established at the unilateral request of the Philippines. China has declared its solemn position of non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration, and will stay committed to settling the relevant disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation.

To help people get to know the truth, I would like to share with Liberian readers the background information of the said arguments about the South China Sea Issue in terms of its history, current situation as well as the Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on Settling Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea Through Bilateral Negotiation.

As for the Philippines’ South China Sea arbitration, the root cause of the issue is the invasion and illegal occupation by certain countries of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands. The Nansha islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. Successive Chinese governments have been exercising continuous jurisdiction over the islands and relevant waters by means of administrative management, military patrol, production and business operation and maritime rescue. Though during the World War II , Japan occupied Nansha Islands, China, as the victor of the war against Japanese aggression, finally recovered the islands according to international law and also international instruments such as the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation. In the decades that followed, many countries recognized that the Nansha Islands belong to China and not a single country raised objection.

The western border of the territory of the Philippines, according to several related treaties and documents, is at 118 degrees east longitude. China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea are all located west of that line. However, since the early 1970s, the Philippines pursued their territorial expansion by invading and occupying 8 islands and reefs of the China’s Nansha. The Philippines’ illegal territorial claims constitute the violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in disregard of historical facts and international treaties. What is more, ignoring the fact that China and the Philippines have already reached understanding to resolve relevant disputes in South China Sea through bilateral negotiation, and China have excluded compulsory settlement proceedings in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines unilaterally initiated the South China Sea arbitration in January 2013 in an attempt to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and to cover up its invasion and illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands.

It’s also noticed that some accused China of the peaceful construction on some islands and reefs of the Nansha as “militarization” and “threat” to the freedom of navigation and overflight. It’s true that China has been conducting development activities on its own territories. In fact, some countries have conduced their development activities on some islands and reefs illegally taken from China in this area at a much earlier time. What China has built focuses on making available civil services and providing international public goods, which will neither affect the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, nor damage the marine ecosystem, let alone resulting in so-called “militarization”.

As for the argument that China has controlled the strategic sea lane in the South China Sea, it can’t hold water at all when confronted with the facts. China has been always honoring and maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea enjoyed by all countries in accordance with the international laws. Thanks to the concerted efforts by China and neighboring countries, the international shipping lane in the South China Sea stays unimpeded, flourishes with trade and benefits all countries concerned. However, some external countries, often in the disguise of upholding the freedom of navigation, send military vessels and airplanes approaching and even entering into the waters and air space close to the related islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands only to flex its military muscle. They try to stir up tensions among regional countries and interfere in the South China Sea Issue for its own political and military interests. Their actions are the true threats to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China stands firmly against such actions that posed threats to China’s sovereignty and security, abets the militarization of South China Sea and endangers regional peace and stability.

In fact, the current tensions in the South China Sea are totally imposed artificially with an aim of stirring the clean water. It stands for a dangerous tendency constituting a grave threat to the peace and stability of the region and the world as well. Some countries with ulterior motives outside the China South Sea want to muddy the waters in the South China Sea and to destabilize Asia. Some countries try to abuse the UNCLOS as the only standard and deny the principle of territorial sovereignty established under international law, including the UN Charter. They attempt to cover up the fact that they are illegally occupying China’s islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands.

Lies have short legs and truth will always come to light. China’s position is clear and firm, as indicated by the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China issued on June 8,2016 regarding settling disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation. The following is the full text:
China and the Philippines are neighbors facing each other across the sea, and the two peoples have enjoyed friendship over generations. Before the Philippines’ unilateral initiation of the South China Sea arbitration on 22 January 2013, the overall situation in the South China Sea had remained stable despite certain disputes between China and the Philippines therein. Thanks to China’s efforts, China and the Philippines carried out friendly consultations on, among others, establishing dialogue mechanisms and engaging in practical cooperation and joint development, and have achieved positive outcomes in this regard. However, ever since its initiation of the arbitration, the Philippines has unilaterally closed the door of settling the South China Sea issue with China through negotiation, and has, while turning its back on the bilateral consensus regarding managing differences, taken a series of provocative moves that infringed upon China’s legitimate rights and interests. This has led to dramatic deterioration of China-Philippines relations as well as of peace and stability in the South China Sea. China is firmly opposed to the Philippines’ unilateral actions. China adheres to the solemn position of non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration, and will stay committed to settling the relevant disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation.

I. It is the common agreement and commitment of China and the Philippines to settle their relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation
China has all along stood for peacefully settling territorial and maritime delimitation disputes through negotiation with States directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. On issues concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation, China never accepts any recourse to third party settlement, or any means of dispute settlement that is imposed on it. Territorial sovereignty issues are not subject to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). With regard to maritime delimitation disputes, China made, pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS, an optional exceptions declaration in 2006, excluding disputes concerning, among others, maritime delimitation from the UNCLOS third party dispute settlement procedures.

It is not only the Chinese government’s consistent policy, but also a clear agreement reached between China and the Philippines, to settle their relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation.

The 10 August 1995 Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines concerning Consultations on the South China Sea and on Other Areas of Cooperation states that “[d]isputes shall be settled in a peaceful and friendly manner through consultations on the basis of equity and mutual respect”, and that “a gradual and progressive process of cooperation shall be adopted with a view to eventually negotiating a settlement of the bilateral disputes.” Afterwards, China and the Philippines reaffirmed the consensus on settling the South China Sea issue through bilateral negotiation and consultation in a number of bilateral documents, such as the 23 March 1999 Joint Statement of the China-Philippines Experts’ Group Meeting on Confidence-Building Measures and the 16 May 2000 Joint Statement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines on the Framework of Bilateral Cooperation in the Twenty-First Century.

On 4 November 2002, China and the ten ASEAN Member States signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), in which the Parties concerned solemnly “undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign States directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”.

Afterwards, China and the Philippines reaffirmed this solemn commitment they had made in the DOC in a number of bilateral documents, such as the 3 September 2004 Joint Press Statement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the 1 September 2011 Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines.

II. China and the Philippines have never conducted any negotiation on the subject-matters of the arbitration initiated by the Philippines
According to the Philippines, China and the Philippines have engaged in a number of exchanges of views since 1995 on the subject-matters of the arbitration initiated by the Philippines but the disputes have remained unsettled, and the Philippines has good reasons to believe that it is meaningless to continue the negotiations and it therefore has the right to initiate the arbitration. The fact, rather to the contrary, is that the two States have by far never engaged in any negotiation on the subject-matters of the arbitration.

China and the Philippines have held multiple rounds of consultations on the proper management of disputes at sea, but have by far had no negotiation designed to settle the relevant disputes in the South China Sea. China has on a number of occasions proposed with the Philippines the establishment of a China-Philippines regular consultation mechanism on maritime issues; however, to date, there has never been any response from the Philippine side. On 1 September 2011, the two countries issued the Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Philippines, reiterating the commitment to settling the disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation. Thereafter, China, for many times, proposed restart of the China-Philippines consultation mechanism for confidence-building measures, but this proposal has once again fallen on deaf ears. It is completely groundless for the Philippines to claim that it is meaningless to continue the negotiations, and that the Philippine side has had to initiate the arbitration.

III. The Philippines’ unilateral initiation of arbitration goes against the bilateral agreement on settling the disputes through negotiation and violates the provisions of UNCLOS
The South China Sea arbitration was unilaterally initiated by the Philippines. In doing so, the Philippines has turned its back on the agreement reached and repeatedly reaffirmed by China and the Philippines on settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation and violated its own solemn commitment in the DOC. This is a violation of the principle of Pacta sunt servanda and an abuse of the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedures. It goes against international law, including UNCLOS.
First, by unilaterally initiating the arbitration, the Philippines has violated its agreement with China to settle the relevant disputes through bilateral negotiation. In relevant bilateral documents and the DOC, China and the Philippines have agreed to settle through negotiation their disputes in the South China Sea and reaffirmed this agreement many times. The above bilateral documents between China and the Philippines and relevant provisions in the DOC are mutually reinforcing and constitute a binding agreement, by which both sides have chosen to settle the relevant disputes through negotiation. The Philippines’ breach of its own solemn commitment is a deliberate act of bad faith.

Second, by unilaterally initiating the arbitration, the Philippines has violated the right, as provided for in UNCLOS, of a State Party to UNCLOS to choose the means of dispute settlement of its own will. Article 280 of Part XV of UNCLOS stipulates that: “Nothing in this Part impairs the right of any States Parties to agree at any time to settle a dispute between them concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention by any peaceful means of their own choice.” Article 281 of UNCLOS provides that: “If the States Parties which are parties to a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention have agreed to seek settlement of the dispute by a peaceful means of their own choice, the procedures provided for in this Part apply only where no settlement has been reached by recourse to such means and the agreement between the parties does not exclude any further procedure”. Given that China and the Philippines have made an unequivocal choice to settle the relevant disputes through negotiation, and have excluded third party settlement procedures, including arbitration, the third party dispute settlement procedures stipulated by Part XV of UNCLOS is thus non-applicable in this regard.
Third, by unilaterally initiating the arbitration, the Philippines has breached Article 283 of UNCLOS regarding the duty of exchange of views. The Philippines deliberately misrepresents certain consultations with China on maritime affairs and cooperation, all of a general nature, as negotiations over the subject-matters of the arbitration, and uses this as an excuse to claim that bilateral negotiations have been exhausted. This is despite the fact that the two States have never engaged in any negotiation on those subject-matters. Such claim made by the Philippines is fundamentally contrary to facts, and must have been made with ulterior motives.

IV. China will adhere to the position of settling the relevant disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea through negotiation
China is a major force for upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea. China is a staunch supporter of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. It is committed to upholding and promoting international rule of law and shall always respect and act in accordance with international law. While firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation and managing differences through relevant rules and mechanisms. China endeavors to achieve win-win outcomes through mutually beneficial cooperation, and is committed to making the South China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.

On issues concerning territory and maritime delimitation, China does not accept any means of dispute settlement imposed on it; nor does China accept any recourse to third party settlement. The door of China-Philippines bilateral negotiation is always open. China will remain committed to settling through negotiation the relevant disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. China urges the Philippines to immediately cease its wrongful conduct of pushing forward the arbitral proceedings, and return to the right path of settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation with China.

Currently more and more African countries have seen the true colors of the arbitration and rendered their support to China. The international community, especially the developing countries, demonstrates their commitment to the international law, through standing on the side of the victim and justice. The truth can not be distorted and justice naturally inhabits man’s heart.

Authors

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here