China Remains Committed to Peaceful Settlement of Disputes in the South China Sea through Negotiations and Consultations
2016-05-03 22:59

--Keynote Speech by Mr. Liu Zhenmin,

Vice Foreign Minister of China,

At the Sub-conference on the South China Sea

During the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2016

25 March 2016

President Wu Shicun,

Deputy Party Secretary Li Jun,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Boao! It is my pleasure to once again attend the sub-conference on the South China Sea.

On behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Minister Wang Yi, let me extend our warm congratulations on the opening of the sub-conference. I would also like to thank the National Institute for South China Sea Studies for their thoughtful preparations.

The theme of this sub-conference­-the South China Sea: Maritime Cooperation and CBMs is both timely and relevant. Let me share with you some thoughts on China's commitment to peaceful settlement of the disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations.

Over the past 25 years since the end of the Cold War, the South China Sea has remained stable overall and relevant disputes have been properly managed, thanks to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership. China is committed to its own peaceful development. As the biggest coastal state in the South China Sea, the last thing China wants to see is turbulence in its neighborhood, and in the South China Sea.

China has a big stake in peace and stability in the South China Sea, which is also the shared interest of all coastal states and countries that rely on the shipping lanes there. Promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea requires confidence building, improving mutual trust and deepening cooperation among all the coastal states.

In recent times, peace and stability in the South China Sea have been affected, more or less, by certain negative factors: Some countries are making unilateral provocations at sea to impose their claims on China; a certain country, using the application of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as a pretext, has initiated arbitration procedures against China to negate China's sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, without any good will to settle disputes, some countries from outside the region have stepped up political and military intervention in the South China Sea out of their own strategic interests, which has heightened tension in the region and made the situation even more complicated.

The South China Sea issue has become a hard nut to crack. But it's not uncrackable. In fact, the key to overcome difficulties has always been in the hands of regional countries, that is, to settle disputes through negotiations and consultations between countries directly concerned.

This has been China's consistent policy and practice over the past 60 years since the founding of New China.

First, peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiations and consultations is consistent with international law and basic norms governing international relations.

Negotiations and consultations between countries directly concerned has been listed as the most preferred option in the peaceful handling of international disputes as set forth in international legal instruments such as the Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter)and the Declaration on Principles of International Law.

UNCLOS also requires parties to first resort to negotiations as the means to address disputes over delimitation.

Second, to peacefully settle disputes through negotiations and consultations is a choice made by China based on international practice and its own experience.

China, India and Myanmar jointly initialed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1954, which has served as the basis for China's efforts in addressing boundary issues left over by history.

So far, China has resolved boundary issues with 12 of its 14 neighbors on land through negotiations and demarcated around 20,000 kilometers, or 90% of its boundary. China and Vietnam also did maritime delimitation in the Beibu Gulf through negotiations.

Such a process of proper resolution of boundary disputes has been conducive to fostering a peaceful and stable environment in the region, and bears witness to China's commitment to respect international law.

Moreover, to seek peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiations and consultations is a weighty commitment made by China and ASEAN countries in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which was signed by China and ten ASEAN countries in 2002.

According to Article 4 of the DOC, "the Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Over the years, China has maintained communication with its neighbors concerned regarding relevant disputes in the South China Sea. And we have reaffirmed our commitment to negotiations and consultations as the fundamental way to manage disputes through bilateral agreements.

China and the Philippines have agreed in a number of bilateral agreements and statements that the two sides would address disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations in accordance with the DOC.

Last but not least, to peacefully resolve disputes through negotiations and consultations is the best way to reflect a country's own will and ensure sovereign equality between the parties concerned. This offers a unique advantage in addressing complex and sensitive boundary and maritime disputes.

In international relations, negotiated solutions are more acceptable to the people, more viable and most likely to take hold. China is convinced that negotiation is the fundamental way to resolve disputes over territory and maritime delimitation.

Some people may argue that bilateral negotiations are no more than a cover for China to bully smaller countries and advance its own claims. Is that really the case? The answer is NO.

China has long advocated that "the strong and the rich should not bully the weak and the poor". Harmony without uniformity and good neighborliness are in the genes and blood of the Chinese nation and its culture. Trust, good-neighborliness and harmony among nations are what China stands for and are reflected throughout the history of mutual learning and co-existence between China and its neighbors.

Since the Opium War in 1840, China, a weak and poor country back then, had suffered a lot under imperialism, colonialism and hegemony for more than a century. The Chinese people understand far too well how precious freedom, equality, fairness and justice should be.

China always opposes hegemony and power politics and firmly upholds equity and justice in international relations. It has never imposed on others the injustice it once suffered, nor will it ever do so.

It has been the consistent position of the People's Republic of China that all countries, big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak, are all equal. That is what China advocates and what guides China's actions.

At the international area, China is not known for bullying the weak. China has only been commended for speaking out for developing countries in defiance of the bullying by strong powers. That is why China has been winning friends all over the world.

China demonstrated the same spirit of equal consultation in its negotiations on resolving the land boundary issues with 12 neighbors. Among them, there are big countries and small countries, strong countries and weak countries.

China settled boundary issues with every one of them under the principles of mutual respect and equal consultation in accordance with historical facts and international law. No one ever accused China of bullying smaller countries or resorting to coercion during the negotiations.

Some claim that multilateral negotiations offer a better way out. But frankly, this view doesn't hold water. In international practice, apart from post-war arrangements, there has hardly been any case where complicated and sensitive territorial and maritime disputes got resolved through multilateral negotiations.

Some countries like to bring up the South China Sea issue on multilateral forums. Their real purpose is not to resolve the issue, but to play it up. This has also made the South China Sea issue liable to outside exploitation.

As for third party procedures, their legitimacy and effectiveness comes from the consent of countries concerned and are based on bilateral negotiations. According to international practice, resorting to arbitration is normally a voluntary and independent choice made by sovereign states through equal consultation, instead of coercion or imposition by one party to another.

China's position of resolving disputes through bilateral negotiations is supported by many successful precedents. We strongly believe that among the various ways of international dispute resolution, peaceful settlement through negotiations is the best approach, as it complies with the principle of sovereign equality and is most effective in practice.

For the above reasons, China firmly opposes the arbitration case brought by the Philippines, which is nothing but an act of imposition without prior consultation.

The Philippines made up one excuse after another to make the arbitration look plausible. It distorted its territorial and maritime disputes with China over some Nansha islands and reefs as matters concerning the interpretation and application of UNCLOS.

This is an attempt to mislead the international community and cover up its occupation of some of the China's Nansha islands and reefs in violation of the UN Charter.

The South China Sea arbitration case brought by the Philippines is not a well-intended dispute settlement procedure and is devoid of legitimacy. By not accepting or participating in it, China is acting in accordance with international law, UNCLOS included.

For the sake of arbitration, the Philippines and the arbitral tribunal have gone so far as to suggest that the DOC, a document jointly signed by China and ASEAN countries, as nothing but a scrap of paper and is not legally binding. The Chinese side cannot but strongly protest against this.

The DOC is an important document signed voluntarily by Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers or their representatives after years of equal consultation. It is a crystalization of joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries to properly handle the South China Sea issue.

As an official record of the serious commitments made by China and ASEAN countries, the DOC lays down rules and norms that should be applied in this region. The DOC has played an important role in managing disputes and upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea region.

An opportunistic approach toward the DOC is deeply troubling. We call on all parties to honor their obligation to uphold the authority and integrity of the DOC, implement the DOC fully and effectively, actively promote practical cooperation and defend the DOC as both a legal and political foundation for regional peace and stability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

China will continue to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea. In October 2013, President Xi Jinping called for the building of a China-ASEAN community of shared future during his visit to Southeast Asia. In November 2014, Premier Li Keqiang expressed his support at the East Asia leaders' meetings to the dual track approach to address the South China Sea issue proposed by ASEAN countries.

The Premier reiterated that relevant disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation and consultation between countries directly concerned on the basis of respect for historical facts and international law. And peace and stability in the South China Sea should be upheld by China and ASEAN countries working together.

These positions by China have remained consistent and clear-cut. China will continue to work towards peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes with countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation, to work with ASEAN countries to advance COC consultations within the framework of full and effective implementation of the DOC, and to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.

We remain committed to the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea enjoyed by all countries in accordance with international law, and continue to uphold the rule of law and basic norms governing international relations through concrete actions.

Let me conclude by wishing the sub-conference a full success. Besides, President Wu Shicun invited me to inaugurate the China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea(CSARC) together with Mr. Li Jun, Deputy Secretary of the CPC Hainan Provincial Committee and Mr. Jusuf Wanandi, Executive President of the CSIS of Indonesia. It's a great pleasure to do so. And I look forward to even more productive exchanges among think tanks in China and Southeast Asia on maritime issues.

Thank you.