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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying's Remarks on US Defense Secretary Carter's Speech Relating to the Issue of the South China Sea at the Shangri-La Dialogue

2015/05/30

Q: US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 30 that China has gone much further and faster in land reclamation, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. He criticized China's actions in the South China Sea as out of step with international norms and rules, saying that the US is deeply concerned about the prospect of further militarization of islands and reefs in the South China Sea as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict. He said that turning an underwater rock into an airfield does not afford the rights of sovereignty, calling for an immediate stop of land reclamation and further militarization of islands and reefs by all claimants. He also vowed to continue to exercise and ensure the freedom of navigation and overflight and encouraged China to reach an agreement with ASEAN on the code of conduct in the South China Sea (COC) within this year. What is China's comment on that?

A: The Chinese side has noted the relevant remarks by US Defense Secretary Carter. In disregard of the history, jurisprudence and facts, the US side made inappropriate remarks on China's long-standing sovereignty as well as rights and interests in the South China Sea to foment dissension and criticized China's normal and justified construction activities on islands and reefs. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that.

I would like to make the following six points on the issue of the South China Sea.

First, China's sovereignty and relevant claims of rights in the South China Sea have been formed in the long course of history and upheld by successive Chinese governments. This position has adequate historical and legal basis. There is no need to have it reinforced through construction activities on relevant islands and reefs.

Second, China's construction work on some garrisoned islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands is totally within China's sovereignty. It is lawful, reasonable and justified, not affecting or targeting any other countries. Once finished, the construction work will equip the islands and reefs with diversified and integrated functions which are mainly for civilian uses, apart from satisfying necessary military defense needs. China is committed to a path of peaceful development, a defense policy that is defensive in nature and a foreign policy of building friendship and partnership with her neighbors. China is a staunch force for peace and stability in the region.

Third, as a major country, China shoulders more international responsibilities and obligations. China is conducting construction activities at a pace and with a scale befitting her international responsibilities and obligations in the fields such as maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, meteorological observation, ecological conservation, navigation safety and fishery services in the South China Sea. These activities are designed to serve practical needs and provide better services to the ships of China, her neighbors and other countries passing through the South China Sea.

Fourth, for a long period of time, there has never been any problem concerning the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea that all countries are entitled to under the international law. Nor will there be any in the future. However, countries must not abuse the freedom of navigation and overflight, still less shall they take the freedom as an excuse to infringe upon the sovereignty, rights and security of coastal countries that are protected by the international law. China's construction activities will not undermine countries' freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. On the contrary, it will facilitate joint response to challenges on the sea and provide more guarantees for the safety of navigation.

Fifth, China and ASEAN countries have made it clear that the issue of the South China Sea shall be addressed through the "dual-track approach", which means that relevant disputes shall be resolved by countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation, and peace and stability of the South China Sea shall be jointly upheld by China and ASEAN countries. Under the framework of fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), China and ASEAN countries are pressing ahead with the COC consultation, striving to reach an agreement based on consensus at an early date. We have seen important progress. The COC, in essence, is a matter between China and ASEAN countries, and thus should be jointly made by China and ASEAN countries through consultation on an equal footing. It is hoped that the US and other countries outside the region will fully respect efforts by China and ASEAN countries in this regard instead of adding complicated elements to the consultation process.

Sixth, the US is not a party to the South China Sea issue. It is not and shall not become an issue between China and the US. We strongly urge the US to keep the big picture of China-US relationship and regional peace and stability in mind, honor its commitment of not taking sides on issues concerning territorial sovereignty, show earnest respect to regional countries' efforts to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea, be discreet with words and deeds and refrain from any of them that are detrimental to peace and stability in the South China Sea and China-US relations.

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