Q: At the request of the Philippines, an arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea disputes between China and the Philippines has been composed recently. What is China's comment on this?
A: On 22 January 2013, the Philippines sent China a note verbale, attached with a notification, to initiate arbitration proceedings against China regarding issues of the South China Sea. On 19 February, China stated its rejection of the request for arbitration by the Philippines and returned the latter's note verbale and the attached notification. The position of China, as indicated above, will not change.
Since the 1970s, the Philippines, in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and principles of international law, illegally occupied some islands and reefs of China's Nansha Islands, including Mahuan Dao, Feixin Dao, Zhongye Dao, Nanyao Dao, Beizi Dao, Xiyue Dao, Shuanghuang Shazhou and Siling Jiao. Firmly and consistently opposed to the illegal occupation by the Philippines, China hereby solemnly reiterates its demand that the Philippines withdraw all its nationals and facilities from China's islands and reefs.
The Philippines professed in the notification of 22 January 2013 that it "does not seek…a determination of which Party enjoys sovereignty over the islands claimed by both of them." On 22 January, however, the Philippines publicly stated that the purpose for initiating the arbitration was to bring to "a durable solution" the Philippines-China disputes in the South China Sea. These statements are simply self-contradictory. In addition, by initiating the arbitration on the basis of its illegal occupation of China's islands and reefs, the Philippines has distorted the basic facts underlying the disputes between China and the Philippines. In so doing, the Philippines attempts to deny China's territorial sovereignty and clothes its illegal occupation of China's islands and reefs with a cloak of "legality". The Philippines' attempt to seek a so-called "durable solution" such as this and the means it has employed to that end are absolutely unacceptable to China.
In accordance with international law, and especially the principle of the law of the sea that "land dominates the sea", determined territorial sovereignty is the precondition for, and basis of maritime delimitation. The claims for arbitration as raised by the Philippines are essentially concerned with maritime delimitation between the two countries in parts of the South China Sea, and thus inevitably involve the territorial sovereignty over certain relevant islands and reefs. However, such issues of territorial sovereignty are not the ones concerning the interpretation or application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore, given the fact that the Sino-Philippine territorial disputes still remain unresolved, the compulsory dispute settlement procedures as contained in UNCLOS should not apply to the claims for arbitration as raised by the Philippines. Moreover, in 2006, the Chinese Government made a declaration in pursuance of Article 298 of UNCLOS, excluding disputes regarding such matters as those related to maritime delimitation from the compulsory dispute settlement procedures, including arbitration. Therefore, the request for arbitration by the Philippines is manifestly unfounded. China's rejection of the Philippines' request for arbitration, consequently, has a solid basis in international law.
In the interest of maintaining the Sino-Philippine relations and the peace and stability in the South China Sea, China has been persistent in pursuing bilateral negotiations and consultations with the Philippines to resolve relevant disputes. It is a commitment undertaken by all signatories, the Philippines included, under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) that disputes relating to territorial and maritime rights and interests be resolved through negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned therewith. The DOC should be implemented in a comprehensive and serious manner. China will adhere to the means of bilateral negotiations to resolve territorial and maritime delimitation disputes both in accordance with applicable rules of international law and in compliance with the spirit of the DOC.