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Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ouyang Yujing Gives Interview to Chinese and Foreign Media on South China Sea Issue

2016/05/06

On May 6, 2016, Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ouyang Yujing briefed Chinese and international media on the South China Sea issue, introducing China’s relevant positions and stance and answering 14 questions from the journalists. Deputy Director-General of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Xining chaired the briefing. The briefing proceeded as follows:

Wang Xining: Friends from the media, good morning. The South China Sea issue has been followed closely by the media. Today, the International Press Center of the MFA is honored to invite Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs Ouyang Yujing to brief you on the Chinese government’s position, principles and policies on the South China Sea issue. Director-General Ouyang Yujing will make a brief opening remarks and then answer your questions.

Ouyang Yujing: It is my great pleasure to meet with friends from Chinese and international media today. Recently, the South China Sea issue has been heating up for various reasons. Today I am going to share with you my views on the issue. I will first talk about positions and stance of the Chinese government and then answer your questions.

In recent years, the South China Sea issue has attracted much attention from the region and beyond. But the core of the South China Sea issue is territorial disputes caused by the illegal occupation of some of China's Nansha islands and reefs since the 1970s by countries like the Philippines, in violation of the UN Charter and the basic norms of international relations. It is also about maritime delimitation disputes arising with the evolution of the new system of the law of the sea.

The Nansha Islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times. Successive Chinese governments have been exercising continuous jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands and relevant waters by means of administrative management, military patrol, production and business operation and maritime rescue . During the World War II (WWII), Japan occupied the Nansha Islands. But after the war, China recovered the Nansha Islands according to international law. The international instruments such as the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation signed during the WWII stipulate that Japan must return the Chinese territory that it had stolen from China during the war. The then Chinese government declared sovereignty and reinforced jurisdiction by compiling official place names, publishing maps, setting up administrative units and stationing troops. In the decades that followed, many countries recognized that the Nansha Islands belong to China and not a single country raised objection.

In January 2013, the Philippines unilaterally initiated the South China Sea arbitration. The Chinese government does not accept or participate in such arbitration. China and the Philippines have already reached understanding to resolve relevant disputes in South China Sea through bilateral negotiation, and have excluded compulsory settlement proceedings in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore the arbitral tribunal does not have jurisdiction on the disputes between China and the Philippines. The arbitration is unlawful from the very beginning and China will not accept or acknowledge the arbitration whatever its so called "ruling" might be.

The arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines is a political farce under the cloak of law. By raising arbitration, the Philippines attempts to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and to cover up its illegal occupation of some of China’s Nansha islands and reefs. Such scheme has posed a serious threat to regional peace and stability.

The so called ruling of the arbitration will not change the history and reality of China's sovereignty over South China Sea islands and the adjacent waters. It will not shake China’s determination to uphold sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, nor can it affect China’s policy and position of resolving relevant disputes through direct negotiations and jointly maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea with other countries in the region.

The Chinese government is committed to resolving disputes about overlapping territorial sovereignty with countries concerned through negotiations and consultations on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law. Since the 1960s, China has solved boundary issues through negotiations and consultations with 12 out of the 14 land neighbors and delineated and demarcated with them borderlines of approximately 20,000 kilometers, accounting for 90 percent of China’s total land boundary. In addition, China and Vietnam have set the maritime boundary in the Beibu Gulf through negotiations and consultations. These are remarkable achievements that China has made through bilateral negotiations and consultations.These are the best examples of China's pursuit of an independent foreign policy and good neighborly relations and its commitment to practicing and upholding international law.

In 2002, China and the ten ASEAN countries signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). During the following decade and more, the parties had frequent and fruitful interactions on full and effective implementation of the DOC, practical maritime cooperation and consultation on Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). The DOC implementation and COC consultation platforms have become main channels for the parties to manage differences on South China Sea issue and conduct cooperation. Different from the precarious situation painted by some countries, the South China Sea has been peaceful and stable thanks to joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries.

China’s position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and clear. We are committed to resolving disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation, to managing disputes through establishing rules and mechanisms, and to joint development and cooperation for win-win outcomes. China is also firmly committed to safeguarding peace and stability of the South China Sea and maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight that countries are entitled to under international law.

This is my opening remarks. Now I’m ready to take your questions.

Wang Xining: As I’m not familiar with all of you, please identify yourself before asking the question. Please make your questions brief. Reuters, please.

1. Reuters: The Chinese government said that constructing facilities such as lighthouses on the South China Sea islands and reefs is to provide public services and goods to the international community. Has China ever discussed the use of relevant facilities with countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and even the US and Japan? How can these facilities be used by the international community?

Ouyang Yujing: There has been plenty of discussion on China's construction on islands and reefs during the past year. MFA spokespersons have also answered related questions for several times. The Chinese government has repeatedly pointed out that the construction on Nansha islands and reefs is to improve the living conditions of stationed personnel and to fulfill China’s international responsibilities and obligations, including providing civil services of navigation safety, scientific research and environmental protection, rescue and relief and meteorologic forecast. The construction activities are within China’s sovereignty. They are legitimate, lawful and justifiable. As a big country on the coast of the South China Sea, China shoulders international responsibilities and obligations. The construction is compatible with the civil services China provides for the region. The facilities are still under construction. When conditions are ready, China will conduct cooperation with relevant countries on rescue services, emergency relief, scientific research and environmental protection.

More than 100,000 merchant ships sail across the South China Sea annually. When the lighthouses enter into use, they will play an important role in improving navigation safety of the merchant ships sailing along this important sea lane. Thank you.

2. Phoenix News Media: A number of Western media are instigating neighboring countries around the South China Sea to follow suit of the Philippines and launch arbitration against China. Will the Chinese government stick to the position of non-acceptance and non-participation?

Ouyang Yujing: Since the Philippines initiated the arbitration in January 2013, the Chinese government has clearly stated its position of non-acceptance and non-participation. The so called ruling will soon come out, but the Chinese government will keep its position and won’t accept or acknowledge the arbitration outcomes.

The Chinese government has made this decision based on the following grounds. First, China and the Philippines have chosen long time ago to settle disputes through bilateral negotiations in bilateral agreements such as joint statements and joint communiqués.

Second, China and ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, have signed the DOC in 2002, which stipulates in Article 4 that relevant disputes should be resolved by sovereign states directly concerned through negotiations and consultations.

The two points above constitute an “agreement” between China and the Philippines on settling disputes over the South China Sea through negotiations. The Philippines’ initiation of the arbitration violates international law and is against the basic principle of “pacta sunt servanda” in international law.

Third, the Chinese government made a declaration in 2006 in accordance with Article 298 of UNCLOS and has excluded issues concerning maritime delimitation, historic titles, military actions and law enforcement activities from compulsory settlement procedures. The essence of the South China Sea arbitration is about territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation. Territorial sovereignty issues are not in the scope of UNCLOS, and China has made a declaration on optional exception on issues related to maritime delimitation. Therefore, China’s non-acceptance and non-participation in the arbitration fully complies with international law including the UNCLOS.

Fourth, Articles 280, 281 and 282 of the UNCLOS provide that the State Parties have right to settle disputes by means of their own choice. China and the Philippines have reached understanding on settling the disputes through negotiations and consultations. Such right should be respected.

Therefore, the initiation of arbitration by the Philippines on its disputes with China in the South China Sea is illegal from the very beginning. It is a violation of its understanding with China and provisions of UNCLOS. China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation is in complete accordance with international laws including UNCLOS, and is an action of respecting international law and maintaining the integrity and sanctity of the UNCLOS.

On issues concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China will never accept any unilateral recourse to third-party dispute settlement. Thank you.

3. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA): The G7 summit to be held this month might release a statement on maritime issues. What’s China’s comment on this?

Ouyang Yujing: It’s more appropriate for my colleague Hong Lei to answer this question. But here I would like to share my opinions.

The South China Sea issue is in essence about territory and maritime delimitation. According to the DOC and the “dual-track” approach jointly initiated and followed by China and ASEAN member states, relevant disputes should be resolved by parties directly concerned through negotiations and consultations, and the peace and stability of the South China Sea should be jointly maintained by China and ASEAN countries. China and ASEAN countries are now actively advancing relevant work following the provisions of the DOC. The DOC also has a provision that encourages countries outside the region to respect the efforts made by China and ASEAN countries in resolving the South China Sea issue.

For some time, we have heard on different occasions remarks by countries outside the region and regional organizations on the South China Sea issue. Some of them are accusations against China. If it is an constructive opinion or suggestion from countries concerned, it is surely possible to be accepted by China. But if it is all about putting pressure on China or smearing our image, it will be rejected by us. This is like when you press a spring: the bigger the force is, the greater the counterforce will be. We hope that relevant countries and regional organizations can view the South China Sea issue in an objective and fair light. Thank you.

4. China Central Television (CCTV): China has always been stressing that an important reason for China’s non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration initiated by the Philippines is because it concerns territorial sovereignty and goes beyond the scope of UNCLOS. But the Philippines claimed repeatedly that their 15 submissions for arbitration do not refer to territorial sovereignty. What’s China’s opinion on this?

Ouyang Yujing: Friends who are not specialized in international law may not know the whole story of the South China Sea arbitration case. The 15 submissions put forward by the Philippines are in essence about territory and maritime delimitation issues. The territorial issues are beyond the scope of UNCLOS. They are within the scope of customary international law. That is to say, the arbitral tribunal is not in the position to rule on territorial issues. On maritime delimitation, China made a declaration on optional exception of third-party compulsory settlement proceedings in 2006 in accordance with Article 298 of UNCLOS. Thus it is unlawful of the Philippines to raise arbitration, and the arbitral tribunal should have no jurisdiction.

Any "ruling" made by the arbitral tribunal will inevitably concern territorial and maritime delimitation disputes, which are beyond its jurisdiction. The tribunal is expanding and abusing its power. The Philippines, knowing that the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over territorial and maritime delimitation disputes, has deliberately packaged the disputes into questions about interpretation and application of UNCLOS. This is the trick that the Philippines has used .

What the Philippines has done is invalid de facto or de jure. Anyone knowing the basics of international law and takes an impartial position can see through the trick. The disguise of the Philippines must be disclosed to the international community. Thank you.

5. Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) of Japan: The Chinese government attaches importance to UNCLOS, which clearly stipulates that a range within 12 nautical miles is territorial sea. Does China's “nine-dash line” conform to the UNCLOS?

Ouyang Yujing: First, China’s sovereignty and the related entitlements and claims of rights and interests in the South China Sea have gradually formed in the history, and such sovereignty and relevant rights and interests have been upheld by successive Chinese governments. In 1948, the Chinese government announced the dotted line in the South China Sea, with the main purpose of reiterating China’s sovereignty and relevant rights and interests in the South China Sea. Over the following decades, the international community had not raised any objection on the dotted line. Moreover, many countries have clearly marked the dotted line in their governmental and non-governmental maps. I would like to make a few comments on the relations between the dotted line and the UNCLOS:

First, the dotted line was publicized in 1948 whereas the UNCLOS was achieved in 1982. They have different historical background and have different applicable legal systems.

Second, the UNCLOS includes many stipulations concerning "historic titles" and "historic bays". From this point of view, the UNCLOS is not opposed to those historic rights formed before.

Third, as I mentioned, the dotted line in the South China Sea released by the Chinese government in 1948 reiterated China’s sovereignty and relevant right and interests in the South China Sea. The territorial issues are in the scope of adjustment of customary international law rather than that of the UNCLOS. So one cannot say that China’s propositions of the dotted line contradict with the UNCLOS, because the matter concerns customary international law. Thank you.

6. The Associated Press (AP): China has promised that the land reclamation project on the relevant islands and reefs in South China Sea has been completed, is this true? Is China still carrying out related works on relevant islands and reefs, such as Huangyan Dao? Does China plan to build any nuclear power plant in South China Sea?

Ouyang Yujing: the Chinese government officially announced in June last year that the land reclamation project on relevant islands and reefs in South China Sea were completed at the end of June. I think this sentence is clear.

As for the Huangyan Dao issue, we have seen a lot of news from the media, and I have just learnt from you about building nuclear power plants in the South China Sea. I would like to say that Huangyan Dao is China’s integral territory, which the Philippines knows very well. The Philippines mentioned Huangyan Dao in its arbitration submissions. For some time, the Philippines has taken many moves concerning the Huangyan Dao issue to challenge China’s sovereignty and security. For example, Chinese government ships have been harassed, as some people did unsensible things such as throwing stones and even Molotov cocktails to challenge China's sovereignty over the Huangyan Dao and our security there.

Taking this opportunity, we urge the Philippines to discipline its people concerned and not to challenge China’s territorial sovereignty and security again. Thank you.

7. China News Service: Foreign Minister Wang Yi once said during the “Two Sessions” that China will invite international media to visit islands and reefs in the South China Sea when conditions permit. Which island will be appropriate?

Ouyang Yujing: On March 8 this year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi expounded our positions on this issue at the press conference of the annual sessions of the NPC and CPPCC. Minister Wang mentioned that we will invite foreign media to visit islands and reefs in the South China Sea when conditions are appropriate. The relevant islands and reefs are still under construction, not ready for visitors on account of security problems. Of course, when conditions permit, China will consider things such as inviting some friends from international media to visit the islands. Thank you.

8. Asahi Shimbun of Japan: I have two questions. First, as far as I know, the arbitral tribunal doesn’t rule over the ownership of the South China Sea. However, China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation seems to show that it doesn’t want to settle the South China Sea issue. Second, what’s China’s objective or blueprint on the South China Sea issue?

Ouyang Yujing: About the first question, China takes a clear position of non-acceptance and non-participation concerning the South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines. A review of the memorial submitted by the Philippines shows that it actually concerns two important aspects: one about the question of territory, and the other about the maritime delimitation disputes.

As I said earlier, territorial sovereignty is not in the scope of UNCLOS, and China has already made a declaration on optional exception concerning maritime delimitation. Over 30 countries have made similar declarations. Among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, four have made the declaration on optional exception, and the only one didn't is the US, which is not a party to UNCLOS. As such, China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation conforms to international laws including UNCLOS. Such a position is an act of justice by China to uphold the authority of international law and the integrity of UNCLOS.

No one should say that China does not want to solve the South China Sea issue. China and the Philippines have explicitly expressed, at the bilateral level and in the DOC, that disputes shall be resolved through negotiations and consultations.

About the second question, the objective on the South China Sea issue. It is important for one to first identify the core of the issue, which is the question of territory and maritime delimitation, as I mentioned before.

We have three principles on resolving the South China Sea issue: First, by negotiations and consultations; second, managing disputes with regulations and mechanisms; and third, alleviating disputes through development and cooperation. It is the best scenario if disputes can be settled ultimately. But as we all know, except for the South China Sea issue, there are still many maritime delimitation issues in the world, including the East China Sea issue between China and Japan. Maritime delimitation is extremely complex. Our objective is to solve relevant disputes through negotiations and consultations with parties directly concerned on the basis of historical facts and respecting the basic principles of international law.

Before the disputes are finally settled, we hold the view that regulations and mechanisms should be set up to manage disputes. For instance, China and ASEAN countries have carried out maritime cooperation and COC consultation under the framework of the DOC. This way, we can uphold the overall peace and stability before relevant disputes are finally settled.

Meanwhile, to alleviate disputes, we advocate regional cooperation which includes joint development so as to benefit all parties and boost their mutual trust. This helps foster a enabling environment and public opinion for the final settlement of the disputes.

In a word, a final settlement of the disputes over the South China Sea is our shared goal. Before the disputes are ultimately resolved, we will work with ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea, making it a sea of peace, cooperation and prosperity. Thank you.

9. Agence France-Presse (AFP): Since China holds that relevant islands and reefs in the South China Sea are illegally occupied by some countries, if the arbitral tribunal’s “award” is against China, will China consider recovering relevant islands and reefs by force?

Ouyang Yujing: Since the 1970s, some countries have illegally occupied some of China’s Nansha islands and reefs, leading to territorial issues. As to the South China Sea arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, the position of the Chinese government is very clear: China will not participate in, accept or acknowledge the arbitration. The arbitral tribunal’s final “award” will not affect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and the Chinese government will firmly safeguard China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. Meanwhile, we will remain committed to settling disputes through negotiations and consultations. Thank you.

10. Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore: As you just said, the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over this case, while the tribunal believes it has jurisdiction, which is agreed by a number of experts on international law. Are these experts wrong? And my second question is that will China be concerned about the public opinion from the international community for its non-acceptance and non-participation in the South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines?

Ouyang Yujing: Sovereign states are entitled by international law to resort to a third party procedure including arbitration to settle disputes. But the precondition is clear consent of both parties concerned. By unilaterally resorting to arbitration when China is unaware, the Philippines has breached bilateral understanding and the DOC and infringed China’s rights entitled by UNCLOS. This is in itself a violation of international law.

The South China Sea arbitration is related to territorial and maritime delimitation issues. The arbitral tribunal set up under UNCLOS has expanded its power into the scope of customary international law and to issues of territorial sovereignty. This is a serious expansion and abuse of power.

There are major defects and errors in procedure applicability, law applicability, facts and evidences in the trial of the tribunal. The Chinese government takes a clear-cut position of not accepting and not participating in this arbitration case that is devoid of legal ground from day one. It is China's consistent position to resolve territorial and maritime delimitation issues through negotiations and consultations in accordance with bilateral agreement and the international law.

Some countries have recently expressed in media understanding and support to China’s position on dealing with the South China Sea issue. This reflects international understanding and support to China in resolving the South China Sea issue through negotiations, upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea and advocating full and effective implementation of the DOC.

To be honest, the South China Sea arbitration case raised by the Philippines is a warning for many other countries. Apart from China, over 30 countries have made declaration under Article 298 of UNCLOS. If these countries also suffer the similar experience of being targeted unknowingly in an arbitration, it will be a dangerous situation that seriously undermines the international law. Thank you.

11. Russia Today: The Chinese government has proposed to solve the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and consultations with parties directly concerned, but now the Philippines obviously doesn’t want to solve the disputes in this way. Is it because the Philippines refused to accept all the conditions put forward by China?

Ouyang Yujing: As I mentioned, over the past 50 years, China has solved boundary issues with 12 land neighbors and signed 29 land boundary treaties through negotiation and consultation. China seeks to settle the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and consultations with the Philippines, but the Philippines never consulted or negotiated with China on any of the 15 submissions. The Philippines was lying when it claimed to have exhausted all bilateral means and have no option but arbitration. The main intension of the Philippines in initiating the arbitration is to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and to cover up its illegal occupation of some of China’s Nansha islands and reefs.

The Philippine territorial scope has been defined by three treaties, i.e. the “Treaty of Paris” in 1898, the “Treaty of Washington” in 1900 and “the Convention Between the United States and Great Britain” in 1930. These three treaties set the 118 degrees east longitude as the boundary of the Philippines, east of which is the territory of the Philippines. China’s Nansha Islands and Huangyan Dao are all located west of the 118 degrees line. That is to say, China’s Nansha Islands and Huangyan Dao are not within the territory of the Philippines.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Philippines adopted a policy of territorial expansion and began to move across the 118 degrees line. It illegally occupied some Nansha islands and reefs of China and named them "Kalayaan Island Group". The initiation of arbitration by the Philippines is in essence an attempt to cover up its illegal occupation of China’s Nansha islands and reefs. Instead of having any negotiation with China on any of its submissions, the Philippines went directly to raise the arbitration and package the relevant issues into interpretation and application of UNCLOS. This is a lie and we must reveal it and let the international community see the Philippine scheme.

China has always been committed to an independent foreign policy of peace, and a neighbourhood diplomacy featuring peace and friendship. This is a basic principle of ours in resolving disputes of territory and maritime rights and interests with our neighbours. Such principle will remain unchanged.

It is also under this spirit and through negotiation and consultation during the past five decades that we achieved fruitful results, a proof of the effectiveness of this approach. Therefore, we will stay committed to negotiation and consultation to settle the disputes. Thank you.

12. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA): You mentioned that China hopes to solve disputes through bilateral negotiations and consultations, yet there are always compromises in negotiation. Is China willing to make compromises?

Ouyang Yujing: I once read a book called The Art of Negotiation, which says that negotiation is an art of compromise. Different people may view this point differently. For China, we are committed to resolving the disputes related to the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations based on historical facts and basic principles of international law. Any negotiation is a process of coming closer and making joint efforts. In the case of the South China Sea, I have made the position clear that the issue is one left over from history. We advocate resolving the disputes through negotiations and consultations with our neighbours based on respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. Thank you.

13. Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore: There is a voice in the international community that China is deliberately delaying the process of consultations on a COC. What’s China’s comment? Does China have a timetable for the consultations on a COC?

Ouyang Yujing: For this question, I would like to mention two figures. China and ASEAN countries started negotiations to formulate the DOC in 1990s and it was finally signed at 2002, taking seven years. Then China and ASEAN countries spent nearly ten years to jointly formulate guidelines for the implementation of the DOC. This reflects how complex the South China Sea issue is. In September 2013, China and ASEAN countries officially launched negotiations on a COC. Over the two-odd years afterwards, many positive outcomes have been achieved. The parties have agreed on two lists of commonalities and two open documents, i.e. the "list of crucial and complex issues" and the "list of elements for the outline of a COC". We also discussed on drafting “preventive measures on managing perils at sea”, and the negotiations on “crucial and complex issues” have entered new stage. These have laid a good foundation for future COC discussions. With so many achievements made in just two years, how can any one say that China is delaying the negotiations?

There is no definite timetable for COC consultation. For such a complex and systematic project, it is impossible to set an exact schedule. If there is any such schedule, it is not materialism but idealism.

14. National Public Radio (NPR) of the US: After the arbitral tribunal’s “award”, will China restart its island and reef construction?

Ouyang Yujing: By the end of June 2015, the Chinese government has finished the land reclamation on relevant Nansha islands and reefs. Construction of the facilities thus started. These are planned and have nothing to do with the arbitration.

Wang Xining: This is the end of today's briefing, I would like to express my gratitude to Director-General Ouyang Yujing and all the reporters.

Ouyang Yujing: Thank you.

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