Worries about imaginary troubles in the South China Sea: Envoy

Saturday, 7 May 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Untitled-10On 20 April, Ambassador Yi Xianliang was invited to deliver a keynote speech on the inauguration of China-Sri Lanka Maritime Economic Cooperation and Management Meeting, which was convened by Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation Secretariat in Colombo. 

Ambassador Yi stressed that the current situation in China›s surrounding seas including the South China Sea is peaceful and stable on the whole. Without stability in the South China Sea, the development achievements of China and Southeast Asian countries over the past decades would not have been realized. In recent years, the attempt of some countries outside the region to stir up the South China Sea issue has brought troubles to China and other coastal states of the South China Sea. Some specific coastal state even lost its way and fell into the trap. 

Territorial disputes

Ambassador Yi pointed out that the South China Sea issue could be analysed through four aspects. The first aspect is territorial disputes concerning the Nansha islands and reefs, over which China has solid historical and legal basis on the sovereignty and sovereign rights. 

Meanwhile, China is committed to resolving disputes through negotiations and consultations. China has signed border treaties with 12 out of the 14 land neighbours. Some negotiation lasted even more than 35 years. This has fully demonstrated the patience, confidence and sincerity of China and relevant parties. Territory disputes may not be resolved within a limited short period, which needs time and patience, not only for China, but also other claimant states who have illegally occupied some of China›s Nansha islands and reefs.    

Maritime delimitation

The second aspect is maritime delimitation. When the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was signed in 1982, some experts believed that maritime delimitation would have rules to follow and no problems any more. In fact, unilateral interpretation of UNCLOS and claim for rights and interests have resulted in more disputes. Even between Sri Lanka and India, who have completed maritime delimitation, there are still fishery disputes. 

UNCLOS is not a «constitution» for addressing all maritime issues. In practice, most maritime disputes were not resolved by UNCLOS. There are hundreds of disputes over maritime delimitation in today›s world, but only a small number of them have been resolved, and a majority of the resolved disputes were done through negotiations and consultations. 

The basic solution to the South China Sea issue relies on the political willingness and patience of the countries directly concerned to resolve disputes over territory and maritime delimitation through negotiations and consultations. Before resolving disputes, we need to manage and narrow differences through cooperation. This is a matter involving claimant countries only. However, some forces outside the region repeatedly interfered the South China Sea issue and became more and more aggressive, which were the key factors affecting and disrupting regional peace and stability. If things go on like this, all of the coastal states of the South China Sea would become victims without exception.  


The third aspect is regarding resources, mainly fishery resources and oil and gas resources. The fishery resources from the South China Sea have been the important protein source for Chinese people over thousands of years. Successive Chinese governments have exercised effective management over the fishing activities in the South China Sea. Fishermen from coastal states have lived in harmony and shared the resources. 

As for oil and gas resources, the disputes have not arose until modern times. The Chinese side initiated the suggestion of joint development in 1980s. We negotiated with coastal states of the South China Sea including Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei on joint development. China will be committed to promoting such cooperation. 

Maritime cooperation

The fourth aspect is about maritime cooperation in low sensitivity areas, including ecological environment protection, pollution prevention, disaster prevention, rescue and combating piracy etc. China has devoted huge human and financial resources bilaterally and through China-ASEAN mechanism to promote such cooperation, but some countries were quite uncooperative and even resistant to cooperate. 

In addition to UNCLOS, the United Nations and its specialised agencies such as United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) have formulated a vast amount of treaties and rules requiring coastal states to strengthen relative cooperation, which is an obligation for coastal states.

Certain country disregarded the obligations and assumed the posture of «Blind opposition to anything related to China» and «No negotiation on the South China Sea issue», turning away all the cooperation proposals, while illegally and unilaterally initiated the so called arbitration to resolve disputes. It is really beyond comprehension. 

Freedom of navigation 

Ambassador Yi emphasised that there has never been any incident affecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. There are more than 13,000 Chinese ships passing through the South China Sea every month, and thousands of fishermen make a living in the South China Sea. 

Upholding peace and stability as well as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is a main component of China›s national security and rights and interests in the South China Sea. China will not make any trouble itself in the South China Sea, and will not allow any other country to cause disturbances either. 

As a matter of fact, some individual countries excessively and unilaterally claimed the rights according to UNCLOS. In addition, certain country outside the region coming from thousands miles away tried every means to make troubles in the South China Sea, politicised the South China Sea issue, and undermined the stability of the South China Sea, so as to cause disturbances and seek geopolitical influence. These were the root causes of the rising of the South China Sea issue. I believe that people are able to come to a fair conclusion.

Ambassador Yi recalled that when he was the official in charge of the South China Sea issue in Foreign Ministry, the Philippine Ambassador to China submitted the note verbal on arbitration to him in February 2013, he clearly stated that the Chinese side would not accept or participate in the arbitration illegally initiated by the Philippines.

Dangerous trend

UNCLOS is one of the best treaties in the world, but should not be politically used of by some individual countries to grab illegal rights and interests. If the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Arbitral Tribunal and UNCLOS were used of by some individual countries in this way, the framework of UNCLOS would be destroyed. This is a dangerous trend, posing a critical challenge to UNCLOS. How to uphold the fairness, justice and values of UNCLOS is a challenge faced by all contracting states including Sri Lanka.

Recently, officials of some countries claimed the Arbitral Tribunal would at least rule that the nine-dash line in the South China Sea was inconsistent with UNCLOS. They lobbied such idea, requested other countries to «express their support» for the Arbitration and urged China to respect the so-called forthcoming «ruling». 

May we ask how could these countries know the «ruling» in advance? Did they draft the «ruling» for the Arbitral Tribunal? Or do they have special relationship with the arbitrators? If the «ruling» is legal and justified, what›s the need to draw some irrelevant countries in and put pressure on China? Certain country is even not a contracting party to UNCLOS at all, but why always take and quote UNCLOS as a «Bible»?

Ambassador Yi stressed that since some people predicted that the nine-dash line was China›s claim for rights and interests in the South China Sea, it might be China›s claim for maritime delimitation with relevant countries in the future. 

If the Arbitral Tribunal makes any form of ruling on the nine-dash line in the South China Sea or asks the Chinese side to clarify, it would constitute an interference in maritime delimitation. If this happens, the Arbitral Tribunal would go one step further towards the quagmire of exceeding its authority and breaching laws, and the Arbitral Tribunal as well as its arbitration ruling would inevitably be fallen into political tools.