Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the South China Sea Issue
In response to the remarks by some countries about the South China Sea issue at the ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi explained China's position on the issue.
Yang pointed out that China's sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters is supported by ample historical and legal evidence. Yet given the complexity of the South China Sea issue, China has always called for shelving disputes and seeking joint development. China and ASEAN countries had candid discussions and reached broad consensus on the South China Sea issue 20 years ago and signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Phnom Penh ten years ago. An important principle of the DOC is to let sovereign states directly concerned resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly consultations and negotiations. Parties agreed to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual formulation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea (COC). China is open to launching discussions on COC on the basis of full compliance with the DOC by all parties. What is essential is that all parties exercise self-restraint in keeping with the spirit of the DOC, and refrain from taking moves that will escalate and complicate the disputes and affect peace and stability. China hopes that all parties will do more to enhance mutual trust, promote cooperation, and create necessary conditions for the formulation of COC.
Yang said that China is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and places importance on upholding the principles and purposes of the Convention. The Convention states at the very outset the desirability of "establishing, with due regard for the sovereignty of all States, a legal order for the seas and oceans". This means that the Convention has not given itself the authority to change the territory of countries and that it cannot be cited as the basis for arbitration in territorial disputes between countries. Countries concerned should first resolve their territorial disputes over the Nansha Islands and, on that basis, proceed to resolve the issue of maritime delimitation in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, the UNCLOS included.
Yang said that the South China Sea is an important shipping route. China is a big trading nation, and 60% of China's external trade goes through the South China Sea. Therefore, China attaches great importance to the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea. Last November, China and Indonesia co-hosted in China the Workshop on Maintaining Freedom and Safety of Navigation in the South China Sea. China has taken an active part in the Cooperative Mechanism in the Straits of Malacca and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia and set up the Maritime Consultation Mechanism with ASEAN countries. China will continue to work closely with the littoral countries to ensure smooth sea lanes in the South China Sea. Countries in the region should make better use of the convenience brought about by the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to strengthen connectivity and facilitate trade and mutually beneficial cooperation between regional countries and countries outside the region.