The Chinese Ambassador in Wellington, Wu Xi, invited questions from POLITIK on the current situation in the South China Sea. This is a transcript of that interview which was conducted by email.
Q: China says it supports multi-lateral institutions such as the UN but it has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the Convention on the United Nations Law of the Sea after it found against it in 2016 in relation to its claims in the South China Sea. Why does China not comply with its own statements of support for the UN?
A: China’s sovereignty, rights and interests in the South China Sea have been established over the long course of history. China has effectively exercised jurisdiction over relevant islands, reefs and waters in the South China Sea for thousands of years.
China and relevant countries have agreed, through bilateral instruments and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), to settle their disputes through negotiations. However, the South China Sea arbitration was unilaterally initiated by certain country, while territorial disputes are not subject to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that maritime delimitation disputes have been excluded from the UNCLOS compulsory dispute settlement procedures by China’s 2006 declaration.
Therefore, the Chinese government solemnly declared that it neither accepts nor participates in that arbitration and has since repeatedly reiterated that position. Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China solemnly declares that the award rendered on 12 July 2016 by the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it.
China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. The Chinese government will continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, including the principles of respecting state sovereignty and territorial integrity and peaceful settlement of disputes, and continue to work with states directly concerned to resolve the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations, on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law, so as to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Q: Last month ASEAN called on China to respect the Convention on the Law of The Sea — China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this week that “Facing the Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnam and China have strengthened our friendship to support each other.” Why does that support not include agreeing to the ASEAN position on the South China Sea?
A: Pursuant to the Declaration on the DOC signed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States in 2002, China is committed to resolving territorial and jurisdictional disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations with sovereign states directly concerned and to jointly maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries. Currently, with the concerted efforts of China and ASEAN states, the situation in the South China Sea is basically stable. China and ASEAN nations are not only honoring the DOC, but also accelerating and advancing consultations on Code of Conduct (COC) to jointly safeguard peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. There has been positive progress in relevant consultations.
China earnestly upholds international law including the UNCLOS. We never expanded our sovereign claims, and we are committed to negotiation and consultation to settle the territorial and maritime disputes with neighboring countries based on international law and the respect for historical facts.
At the 12th Meeting of the China-Vietnam Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the South China Sea is our shared homeland. China and the ASEAN are permanent neighbors. China and Vietnam, together with other ASEAN countries, should abide by the DOC, and push forward the consultations on the COC, instead of giving any opportunity for interference and destruction by external forces.
Q: NZ has said it wants to see the competing claims to the South China Sea resolved in accordance with international law — why can’t that happen?
A: The 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 have 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. Peaceful resolution of 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.
China maintains that the issue of maritime delimitation in the South China Sea should be settled equitably through negotiation with countries directly concerned in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS. Pending the final settlement of this issue, all relevant parties must exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that may complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. China is committed to upholding and promoting international rule of law. China respects and acts in accordance with international law. While firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation and managing differences through rules and mechanisms. China endeavors to achieve win-win outcomes through mutually beneficial cooperation, and is committed to making the South China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.
Q: How far is China prepared to go to defend its claims in the South China Sea; is there a prospect of conflict between it and the United States and other countries sending warships into the area.
A: China earnestly upholds international law including the UNCLOS. We are committed to negotiation and consultation to settle the territorial and maritime disputes with neighboring countries based on international law and the respect for historical facts. We have been honoring the DOC, and we are working with ASEAN countries to advance consultations on a COC in the South China Sea in the hope of an early conclusion. China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states under international law in the South China Sea, and stays ready to work with other coastal states and the international community to ensure the safety of and the unimpeded access to the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
Regrettably, what we see now is certain country outside the region tries hard to thwart and undermine efforts by China and ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability to its own gains. According to media reports, in the first half of this year, certain country’s military aircraft carried out over 2,000 missions in the South China Sea. Since July 15, its military aircraft have conducted close range reconnaissance in the South China Sea for more than 10 consecutive days. Recently the certain country also sent two aircraft carriers to these waters while calling on its allies and partners to send warships and join it in making waves in the South China Sea. This is bad news for regional peace and stability and doesn’t serve the interests of littoral countries in the region. We call on countries outside the region to fully respect the efforts by regional countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, so as to promote the South China Sea as a sea of peace and cooperation.