The truth about the South China Sea issue
Wed, 04/20/2016 - 7:07pm
H.E. Wang Ke, Chinese Ambassador to Barbados
Recently, reports and stories relating to the South China Sea Issue seem to be more abundant, but some of them are biased and even misleading as opposed to factual information. To clarify, I would like to share some facts with local readers and observers.
First of all, The South China Sea Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. The Chinese people were the first to discover, name and explore these islands including the Nansha Islands and exploit their resources. Until the latter half of the 19th century, only Chinese people lived and worked in Nansha Islands. Furthermore, China is the first country to continuously exercise sovereign jurisdiction over them, a practice that has been continued in a peaceful and effective manner without interruption.
During World War II, Japan started the war of aggression against China and occupied the Nansha Islands. It was explicitly provided in the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation and other international documents that all the territory, naturally including the Nansha Islands, which had been stolen by Japan should be restored to China. When the war ended, the Japanese Government officially stated that it renounced all its “rights, title and claim to Taiwan, Penghu Islands as well as Nansha and Xisha Islands”, thus formally returned the Nansha Islands to China.
For quite a long period of time after WWII, there had been no such a thing as the so-called South China Sea Issue, and it was widely recognised by the international community that the South China Sea Islands belong to China, and no country ever challenged this. In 1968, a survey conducted by an affiliate of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) indicated rich oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea. Starting from the 1970s, countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, breaking the UN Charter and the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, a basic norm governing state-to-state relations, have occupied part of the islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands by military means. This leads to the territorial disputes over the Nansha Islands, which is the core and origin of South China Sea Issue. Also, with the evolution of the new system of the law of the sea, there have also
arisen the disputes on maritime delimitation.
Secondly, China’s non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines stand on solid ground in international law. China has long taken the stand that disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights should be peacefully resolved through bilateral negotiations between the countries directly concerned, which has proven effective. As a matter of fact, China has properly settled land boundary issues with 12 countries and completed the delimitation of maritime boundary in the Beibu Bay with Vietnam.
By taking advantage of some provisions of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and without informing China in advance or acquiring China’s consent, the Philippines unilaterally initiated the South China Sea arbitration in January 2013, which violated the agreement to settle disputes through friendly negotiations and consultations reached by China and the Philippines on multiple occasions such as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002 and the two countries’ 2011 joint statement. By unilaterally initiating the arbitration, the Philippines has negated its solemn commitment to its neighbours and the international community, and breached one of the core principles in international relations – Pacta
sunt servanda (“agreements must be kept”). Also, the unilateral initiation of arbitration is a violation of the right to seeking dispute settlement of its own choice that China enjoys as a State Party to UNCLOS. The Philippines’ requests are, in essence, about territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation. Territorial issues are subject to general international law, not UNCLOS. The declaration on optional exceptions China made in 2006 in accordance with Article 298 of UNCLOS excludes disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bays or titles, as well as military and law enforcement activities from the dispute settlement procedures provided in UNCLOS. About 30 countries, including China, have made similar declarations, which forms an integral part of UNCLOS. The Philippines, by packaging its claims, maliciously circumventing China’s declaration. It is the righteous act China has taken to defend the legitimate rights and interests of a State Party to UNCLOS and to uphold the authority and sanctity of this international instrument.
The Philippines’ unilateral initiation of arbitration is by no means aimed at resolving the dispute. Rather, it is a political farce and provocation under the pretext of law. The Philippines intends to use the arbitration to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, discredit China, and seek support for its own invasion and illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands. China will not accept or recognise the “award” whatever the arbitration might be.
Thirdly, China’s construction activities on the Nansha Islands and reefs are aimed at first and foremost improving the working and living conditions for the stationed personnel and better fulfilling China’s relevant international responsibilities and obligations. Upon the completion of the construction, China will provide more public services and products, such as maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, meteorological observation, ecological conservation, navigation safety and may more to the international community, which will be beneficial to all countries.
Also, China deploys on relevant islands and reefs necessary and moderate facilities for military defence in an effort to enhance the defence capability of China’s own territory in accordance with the security environment and threats faced by China in the Nansha Islands. It is by no means so-called “militarization”. Up to now, there are still some 42 islands and reefs of Nansha Islands illegally occupied by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. In fact, China is the main victim of the South China Sea Issue. Yet, with a view to upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea, China has exercised utmost restraint and seeks to peacefully resolve disputes through negotiation and consultation on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with International Law.
As the saying goes “Truth needs not many words”, all the observers with a rational sense will fully understand the efforts that China has made to uphold its own rightful interests and to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, and will surely have a clearer idea of why the waters there are troubled.