Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Refutes Fallacies On the South China Sea Issue
Whether the South China Sea issue would feature prominently on the agenda of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Hanoi became a major concern to the Chinese delegation, as a set of moves by the United States and some other countries before and during the meeting had made the Chinese side suspect such a development. As expected, the US side chose to ignore China's advice and played up the issue at the meeting. With a prepared script at hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked at length about the relationship between the South China Sea and the US national interests, the importance and urgency of maintaining navigation freedom in the South China Sea, objection to coercion and to the threat or use of force in the South China Sea, and so on and so forth. The seemingly impartial remarks were in effect an attack on China and were designed to give the international community a wrong impression that the situation in the South China Sea is a cause for grave concern.
To uphold China's sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests, push for proper settlement of the South China Sea issue through bilateral negotiations between the claimants, and maintain stability in the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made an intervention. He presented his arguments smoothly and confidently. By way of raising a row of questions, Minister Yang expounded China's position and views and exposed the scheme of some to internationalize the South China Sea issue.
Yang said, the first question is what is the situation in the South China Sea. Is it peaceful and stable? Or is it tense? From today's discussion, most people say the situation is peaceful. And in my bilateral discussions with both ASEAN colleagues and others, they all say that there is no threat to regional peace and stability.
Second, is it an issue between China and ASEAN as a whole? Obviously not. We do have some territorial or maritime rights disputes with certain members of ASEAN. It is because we are neighbors. And those disputes shouldn't be viewed as ones between China and ASEAN as a whole just because the countries involved are ASEAN members. The non-claimant ASEAN countries tell the Chinese side that they are not part of the disputes, they don't take sides and they hope these disputes will be settled through bilateral consultations between the countries concerned.
Third, what is the consensus of countries in the region with regard to the South China Sea issue? The consensus is to have these disputes solved peacefully through friendly consultations in the interest of peace and stability in the South China Sea and good-neighborly relations. According to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), it is to exercise restraint, and not to make it an international issue or multilateral issue. Channels of discussion are there, and they are open and smooth. Everybody admit this.
Fourth, what is the function of the DOC? Its function is to enhance mutual trust among the countries concerned and to create favorable conditions and good atmosphere for final solution to the disputes. China and ASEAN countries issued this DOC. There have been joint working group consultations. And when the conditions are ripe, senior officials' meeting can also be held.
Fifth, has navigation freedom and safety been hindered in the South China Sea? Obviously not. Trade has been growing rapidly in this region and China has become the number one trading partner of many countries in the region. Some countries have not been able to export more to China, not because the navigation freedom has been hindered, but because they set high barriers for high-tech exports.
Sixth, what is the purpose of talking about coercion on the South China Sea issue? China all along believes that all countries, big or small, are equal. China, being a big country, also has its legitimate concerns. Is the expression of one's legitimate concerns coercion? That is not logical. The non-claimant countries hate it that some try to coerce them into taking sides on the South China Sea issue.
Seventh, what will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one? It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult. International practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations. Asia has already stood up and gained its dignity. Asian countries can properly address each other's concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
Those who led the attempt to play up the South China Sea issue couldn't have expected that this meeting actually gave China an opportunity to set out its propositions on the South China Sea issue. After the meeting, about a dozen Asian delegates expressed their congratulations to the Chinese side. They said they felt proud, as Minister Yang's remarks were a morale boost to fellow Asians. They could tell that Minister Yang spoke from his heart and his remarks gave them a clearer understanding of the South China Sea issue and China's policy.