Regardless of the strong opposition from the Chinese side, the Philippines stirred up the arbitration farce on the South China Sea issue, claiming that China’s non-participation in the arbitration undermines international rule of law.
Some countries outside the South China Sea labelled China as “not abiding by international law” and “bulling the weak”. Are these the facts? Is China trying to change the status quo of the South China Sea? Why does China not participate in the arbitration? There is a Chinese saying that “Loudness is not necessarily persuasive and justice naturally inhabits man’s heart.” Hereby, we would like to discuss with the readers about this issue.
The statement of China’s non-acceptance and non-participation on the arbitration is logical and reasonable. History cannot be denied and truth cannot be distorted. The fact is, China first discovered, named and developed the South China Sea Islands since 2,000 years ago. In history, the South China Sea was an important waterway of the “Maritime Silk Road” that connected China and the world, also the area for generations of Chinese fishermen to live and work.
The fact is, successive Chinese governments have exercised continuous jurisdiction over the islands by means of administrative control, military patrol, production and business operations, and maritime disaster relief. The fact is, about 70 years ago, following its victory in the World Anti-Fascist war, in accordance with international law, China sent warships to recover the Xisha and Nansha islands from the Japanese invaders, and garrisoned troops and built various military and civilian facilities on the islands, thus resuming exercise of sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands de jure and de facto.
Until the 1960s, the international community, including the coastal countries of the South China Sea, has never raised any query towards China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands. The country which accused China on this issue has actually recognised China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands by ways of Diplomatic Notes and published maps at the time.
Since the 1970s, after the discovery of abundant deposit of petroleum at the South China Sea, the Philippines and some other coastal countries started to encroach and occupy the China’s islands around that area. China is actually the victim on the South China Sea issue.
The statement of China’s non-acceptance and non-participation on the arbitration has ample jurisprudential evidence. The preamble of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convention) proclaims “the desirability of establishing through this Convention, with due regard for the sovereignty of all states, a legal order for the seas and oceans”. It is apparent that “due regard for the sovereignty of all States” is the prerequisite for the application of the Convention to determine maritime rights of the States Parties.
However, the arbitration farce attempts to meddle in the territorial sovereignty of the South China Sea Islands and maritime delimitation, which is lack of jurisprudential evidence. Moreover, China made a clear declaration in 2006 in accordance with Article 298 of the Convention that the disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bays or titles, military and law enforcement activities could not be submitted for arbitration.
China is not the first, neither the only country that exercised this right. In fact, there are more than 30 countries that have already made this kind of declarations according to the Convention, including four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (The United States has not yet joined the Convention). In that case, the declaration of China is in accordance with international law and practice.
The statement of China’s non-acceptance and non-participation on the arbitration farce is having the future in mind and also the demonstration of its firm supports on the international rule of law. China consistently strives for the solution of disputes of territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation by way of negotiation. China has successfully resolved land boundary disputes with 12 out of its 14 neighbours, delimiting and demarcating some 20,000 kilometres in length of land boundary in the process, which accounts for over 90pc of the total length of China’s land boundary. In 2000, China and Vietnam concluded an agreement on establishing a maritime boundary between the two States in Beibu Bay, which strongly manifested China’s practice in international law in adherence to its independent foreign policy and friendly relations with its neighbouring States.
We will continue to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea and promote the cooperation and development of neighbouring countries. Regardless of the result of the arbitration, China will work together with ASEAN countries to actively follow through on Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), carry out consultation to reach, on the basis of consensus and at an early date, to reach a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
China will work closely with ASEAN countries to safeguard the peace, stability and uphold the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China calls for a South China Sea of “peace, friendship and cooperation”.
(Liu is the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya)