Seek­ing a So­lu­tion to the South China Sea Dis­pute

China Today (English) - - CONTENTS -

Dur­ing the 2016 Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in late March, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, at a meet­ing with his U.S. coun­ter­part Barack Obama, ex­pressed China’s stead­fast de­ter­mi­na­tion to safe­guard its sovereignty and re­lated rights in the South China Sea. Pres­i­dent Xi urged the U.S. not to take sides on is­sues in­volv­ing sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, and to ex­ert a con­struc­tive role in main­tain­ing re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity.

The U.S. govern­ment’s poli­cies “Pivot to Asia” in 2009 and “Re­bal­ance to the Asia-Pa­cific” in 2012 were at­tempts to join hands with the sur­round­ing coun­tries of the South China Sea to con­tain China. The U.S. even strength­ened mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment and pres­ence in this area, in­ten­si­fy­ing lo­cal ten­sions.

Cater­ing to the pol­icy of re­bal­anc­ing to the Asia-Pa­cific, Ja­pan in re­cent years has adopted a series of mea­sures, such as lift­ing the ban on the col­lec­tive self-de­fense right, to re­strain China. At the up­com­ing G7 Sum­mit this May, it is ex­pected that Ja­pan will urge the sum­mit to reach an agree­ment to con­tain China on is­sues of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

Rich in pe­tro­leum and nat­u­ral gas, the South China Sea is also one of the busiest sea­ways in the world with an­nual freigh­tage val­ued at about US $5 tril­lion pass­ing through. Sup­ported by the U.S., coun­tries on the rim of the South China Sea openly dis­puted China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea and sur­round­ing wa­ters. The Philip­pines even took the sovereignty dis­pute to the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice in The Hague for ju­di­cial ar­bi­tra­tion.

Avail­able his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments record that the Chi­nese first dis­cov­ered the Nan­sha Is­lands in the Han Dy­nasty (202 BC-AD 220) and were the first to gain sub­stan­tial knowl­edge about the South China Sea. With the progress of nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy and the in­ven­tion and wide use of com­passes, the nav­i­ga­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties of Chi­nese peo­ple in this area tended to be more fre­quent from the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) onwards. Since then, the South China Sea is­lands and ad­ja­cent wa­ters have be­come a wide area for Chi­nese peo­ple to en­gage in pro­duc­tion and com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, such as fish­ing and col­lect­ing co­ral. There were also count­less maps, archives, doc­u­ments, and logs re­served from the Ming ( 1368- 1644) and Qing ( 1644- 1911) dy­nas­ties that recorded the is­lands and reefs in the South China Sea .

After World War II, China re­sumed its ex­er­cise of sovereignty over the Nan­sha Is­lands and Xisha Is­lands in ac­cor­dance with a series of in­ter­na­tional doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing the Cairo Dec­la­ra­tion and the Pots­dam Procla­ma­tion.

In 1958, the govern­ment of the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China is­sued a state­ment once again claim­ing that the Dong­sha, Xisha, Zhong­sha, and Nan­sha is­lands and the wa­ters ex­tend­ing 12 nau­ti­cal miles were part of Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. The UN Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, which took ef­fect in 1994, strongly sup­ports China’s peace­ful devel­op­ment and uti­liza­tion of the South China Sea in re­cent years. Since the Con­ven­tion can­not judge dis­putes on the sea in­volv­ing ter­ri­to­rial en­ti­tle­ment, his­toric sovereignty, and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties, the Chi­nese govern­ment has the right of re­ject­ing the ar­bi­tra­tion of the South China Sea.

A sem­i­nar to cel­e­brate the 25th an­niver­sary of the estab­lish­ment of the China-ASEAN part­ner­ship was held in Bei­jing on April 11. The Philip­pines will never re­sort to mil­i­tary force on the South China Sea is­sue, said Er­linda Basilio, Philip­pine am­bas­sador to China.

Aries Aru­gay, a Philip­pine think tank scholar and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Strate­gic and Devel­op­ment Stud­ies, said that the Philip­pines sub­mit­ted the South China Sea is­sue for “ar­bi­tra­tion” with­out ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with ASEAN or con­sid­er­a­tion of the in­ter­ests of all par­ties, which shut the doors for di­a­logue with other coun­tries. If the Philip­pine govern­ment chose di­a­logue and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the first place, things would look dif­fer­ent now.

The scholar also noted that the gen­eral elec­tion was on­go­ing in the Philip­pines, and that per­haps the new pres­i­dent would take a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to the South China Sea is­sue. Among the four pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the Philip­pines, three said that they were will­ing to en­gage in di­a­logue with China on the South China Sea is­sue, which is a pos­i­tive trend.

Not long ago, some me­dia in Viet­nam re­ported that a Viet­namese fish­ing boat was in­ter­cepted by a Chi­nese ves­sel in the “Viet­namese wa­ters area.” A small-scale anti-Chi­nese demon­stra­tion broke out in Hanoi, cap­i­tal of Viet­nam, on March 14. How­ever, these events did not im­pact the friendly at­mos­phere of high-level mil­i­tary ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries. When Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­ited Viet­nam last Novem­ber, both na­tions agreed to man­age mar­itime dis­putes, ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea (DOC), and seek to reach a con­sen­sus on the code of con­duct for the South China Sea (COC) as soon as pos­si­ble. Both vowed not to take ac­tion that might en­large or com­pli­cate dis­putes, and to main­tain Si­noViet­nam re­la­tions and the peace and sta­bil­ity of the South China Sea.

Al­though China and Viet­nam had dis­puted the sea bor­der over the Beibu Gulf for decades, the is­sue was suc­cess­fully solved by ne­go­ti­a­tion. This shows that only bi­lat­eral treaties can sat­is­fac­tor­ity solve ter­ri­tory dis­putes.

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