China’s Indisputable Sovereignty Over the Nansha Islands
Ouyang yujing on the south china sea issue
Ouyang Yujing, born August 1965, is currently serving as director general of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since he began working with the Foreign Ministry in 1990, Ouyang has long been focused on work related to China’s borders, oceanic territory, and available countermeasures. Recently, as the head of China’s government agency responsible for foreign affairs related to boundary and ocean affairs, Ouyang spoke on the South China Sea issue, which is gaining global focus, from four aspects. He pointed out that China unswervingly pursues independent foreign policy of peace, especially friendly relations with neighboring countries. China has been maintaining this basic policy to resolve territorial disputes over land boundaries and maritime interests and rights with neighbors across both land and sea. And this stance will not change.
China Rejects Arbitration on Sovereignty Issue
Ouyang pointed out that the Nansha Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. The core of the South China Sea issue is the territorial dispute caused by the Philippines’ and other countries’ illegal occupation of Chinese islands and reefs in the waters around the Nansha Islands and the maritime demarcation that resulted from the formation and establishment of new regulations on the law of the sea. In January 2013, the Philippines unilaterally filed an arbitration case against China over the issue with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. China has refused to take part in the proceedings. Ouyang remarked that China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation in the arbitration is clear and consistent, and is based on the following three factors:
First, China and the Philippines have already signed joint communiques and declarations that the two parties would resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations and consultations. Second, according to Article 4 of Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which was signed by China and ten ASEAN countries in 2002, “the Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.” Third, in 2006, China submitted a declaration on optional exceptions under Article 298 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Since the Arbitration Court jurisdiction concerns sovereignty, historic rights and entitlement, China is exempt from the arbitration. There is no provision in the convention to enforce an adverse award on China.
China’s Lawful Island and Reef Construction
China’s construction activities on the South China Sea islands and reefs are aimed first and foremost at improving the working and living conditions for personnel stationed there and better fulfilling China’s relevant international responsibilities and obligations, including providing civil services for navigation safety, scientific research, environmental protection, emergency rescue, and weather forecasting. When conditions permit, China will invite countries in need to use relevant facilities for cooperation in maritime search, disaster prevention and mitigation, and ecological environment pres- ervation, as well as in other areas. At present, more than 100,000 merchant ships sail across the South China Sea every year. Building and operating lighthouses on reefs and islands has played an important role in guaranteeing the navigation safety of these vessels. Ouyang noted that by the end of June 2015, China had already completed land reclamation projects on some islands, soon followed by facility construction. These projects have all proceeded as scheduled and will not be affected by the result of arbitration.
China’s Goal on the South China Sea Issue
When talking about China’s goal on the South China Sea issue, Ouyang asserted that the core of the issue remains a dispute over territory and maritime demarcation. In addressing the issue, the following remarks represent China’s stance: First, China insists on solving disputes through dialogue and consultation between directly related parties. Second, the country will manage and control disputes through establishing rules and mechanism. Third, China aims to ease tensions through cooperation and development. China seeks appropriate solutions through bilateral negotiations and consultations with countries directly involved in the South China Sea issue, based on the respect for historical facts and international laws. Before settling on a solution to the disputes, China proposes to manage disputes with regulations and mechanisms. At the same time, to mitigate disputes, China strongly advocates regional cooperation, especially scenarios where each party wins and mutually beneficial outcomes are achieved.
No Timetable for COC
China has remained actively involved in consultations with Southeast Asian nations on formulating a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), with an aim to resolve disputes through dialogues. Ouyang pointed out that in the 1990s, China and ASEAN countries started negotiations to formulate the DOC. After seven years, the document was finally signed in 2002. It took another ten years for China and ASEAN countries to reach a series of important consensuses on implementing the DOC, which fully demonstrated the complexity of the South China Sea issue. In September 2013, China and ASEAN countries officially launched negotiations on a COC, which has yielded abundant positive results already. China’s attitude demonstrates its resolution to address disputes through consultation and negotiation. There is no definite timetable for COC consultation. For such a complex and systematic project, it is impossible to set an exact schedule. Any such schedule would be more idealist than pragmatic.
The South China Sea issue has become one of the major irritants in the China- U.S. relations in recent years, over which the public opinion in the two countries has been very critical of each other. China’s pursuit in the South China Sea has been consistently maintained. That is to safeguard national territorial integrity and maintain regional peace and tranquility. To observe China, one should never lose sight of the historical dimension.
Fish dealers unload baskets of fish from boats before selling them in the fish market at Tanmen Port in Tanmen Town, southern Hainan Province. CFP
Yongxing Island, part of China’s Xisha Islands, serves as the government seat of Sansha City. Established in 2012 upon the ratification of the State Council of China, the city governs islets, sandbanks and reefs of the Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha islands and their adjacent waters in the South China Sea. by Zha Chunming