Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui: The US has become the biggest threat to peace in the South China Sea

Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui delivered a keynote speech at the “South China Sea from the Perspective of Cooperation” international seminar on September 2, 2020, according to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The seminar was co-hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the China Institute for South China Sea Studies, and was attended by former political leaders, officials and prominent scholars from Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, the United Kingdom and other countries. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a written opening speech at the symposium.

Luo zhaohui said in his speech that we have just heard an inspiring speech by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He elaborated on China’s position on the South China Sea issue and guided us to view the issue from a positive and constructive perspective.

The COVID-19 epidemic is still raging around the world, unilateralism and trade bullying are rife, the US is disrupting the South China Sea and deterring China, and uncertainties and destabilizing factors are on the rise in the world. A series of foreign Ministers’ meetings on East Asia Cooperation will be held next week. The signals from countries in the region on the South China Sea issue will undoubtedly be of concern.

Against this background, China would like to reiterate that its position and commitment on the South China Sea issue remain unchanged. As State Councilor Wang said in his speech, we will continue to work with ASEAN countries to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

Luo zhaohui said that China and ASEAN countries are neighbors that cannot be moved away. This year marks the 17th year of China’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the 18th year of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of China-Asean dialogue relations. At present, ASEAN has become China’s largest trading partner. Despite the spread of the epidemic and the global economic downturn, china-asean trade reached 299 billion US dollars in the first half of this year, up 5.6 percent against the trend. Last year, the two-way exchanges exceeded 60 million.

The above facts show that the history of bilateral contacts has been a process of deepening interaction and managing the South China Sea disputes. The relationship between China and ASEAN is comprehensive. The South China Sea issue is only a small part. Of course, if we can properly handle this issue, bilateral relations will take a new level. If not, the relationship will suffer. We have done well so far and we want to keep the momentum going.

Luo stressed that first, China is committed to resolving disputes through negotiation and consultation and managing differences through dialogue and cooperation.

China was the first country to discover, name, develop, utilize and exercise effective jurisdiction over Nanhai Zhudao and relevant waters. In 1933, France invaded some islands and reefs of Nansha Qundao, and the Chinese government lodged solemn representations. During World War II, Japan illegally occupied Nanhai Zhudao of China. After the end of The second world war, China took back the South China Sea Islands and declared the South China Sea Dotted line in 1948, after which no country raised any objection for a long time. It was only in the 1970s when oil and gas resources were discovered in the South China Sea that relevant countries began to make territorial claims. Since the promulgation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the 1980s, relevant littoral states in the South China Sea have overlapping maritime claims, further complicating the dispute.

A review of history shows that China’s claims in the South China Sea are fully supported by historical and legal evidence. China has indisputable sovereignty over nanhai Zhudao and their adjacent waters. Since the 1980s, China has advocated “shelving disputes for joint development” and has never forced any country to accept it. Discussions on this initiative are still ongoing. There are nearly 1,000 oil Wells in the disputed south China Sea, but none of them belong to China. While we also need oil and gas, we want joint development and do not want to complicate the issue through unilateral development.

China and ASEAN countries are committed to abiding by their obligations under the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and fully implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). China proposes to complete consultations on a code of Conduct in the South China Sea within three years. Covid-19 has slowed coC consultations. But we are confident that the consultation process will be accelerated in a more efficient manner and of higher quality. The good news is that there will be an online meeting on coC consultations tomorrow.

China advocates the establishment of a south China Sea littoral States Cooperation mechanism and actively promotes economic cooperation in the South China Sea. China is ready to forge a blue economic partnership with ASEAN countries. We have reached consensus on building the Maritime Silk Road. We are advancing the construction of new land and sea routes. We can make use of the China-Asean Maritime Cooperation Fund to bring more benefits to people in the region.

Second, China is a firm defender and builder of international rule of law and supports the handling of the South China Sea issue in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The CONVENTION represents a delicate balance between the positions of the parties on the law of the sea. It regulates the legal status of all sea areas, the rights and obligations of all states and major maritime activities, and is an important legal document concerning the modern international maritime order. As a state party to unCLOS, China has always abided by unCLOS and strictly abided by its obligations under the Convention.

On the other hand, in spite of its great importance, the Convention is not the whole of the law of the sea, and there is general international law beyond it. The eighth preambular paragraph of the Convention expressly states that “the rules and principles of general international law shall continue to govern the recognition of matters not provided for in this Convention”. After the entry into force of the CONVENTION, there are still other international cases involving the application of international law to settle maritime disputes. In addition, relevant countries and regions deal with overlapping maritime claims through regional rules or arrangements, such as the relevant coastal states of the Mediterranean Sea and the coastal States of the Caspian Sea.

An objective understanding of the authority and limitations of the Convention is the prerequisite for its correct interpretation and application. The South China Sea issue involves not only UNCLOS but also territorial sovereignty. Only when international law including UNCLOS is fully and accurately applied can it be properly resolved.

The DOC and the COC should also become the rules to be observed by China and ASEAN countries. Some countries are talking about the legal rigour of the code. All this shows that the Convention is not the only legal instrument of the law of the sea.

Third, the South China Sea arbitration case cannot resolve the South China Sea issue. China’s position on the arbitration case is clear and firm, and is fully grounded in international law.

On major disputes over territorial sovereignty and other issues, China always stands for settlement through negotiation and consultation and opposes any forced solution. The South China Sea issue involves complex history, national sentiment and national dignity. Any coercion will only backfire.

International judicial or arbitral bodies shall exercise jurisdiction on the basis of the consent of the states concerned. This is the inherent part of the principle of state sovereignty. The essence of the south China Sea Arbitration is territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not regulate territorial sovereignty. With regard to maritime delimitation, China has made a statement excluding the jurisdiction of arbitration. China and the Philippines have also adopted a series of bilateral documents as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and reached consensus on resolving disputes through bilateral negotiations. The arbitral Tribunal ignored the essence of the dispute between China and the Philippines, ignored China’s declaration under UNCLOS and the consensus reached through negotiation and consultation between the two sides. It overstepped its jurisdiction and stretched the rule of law, and made obvious mistakes in the identification of facts and the application of law. China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, nor does it accept or recognize the so-called award.

Fourth, the INVOLVEMENT of the United States is a source of risks in the South China Sea. Countries in the region have acted in concert to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea is open and inclusive. China and ASEAN countries have never had any intention to build the South China Sea into their own sphere of influence, nor have they ever used the South China Sea as a bargaining chip in the geopolitical game. Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is not a problem at all. It is just an excuse made by troublemakers who want to get involved in the South China Sea issue.

Recently, the US has made frequent provocations in the South China Sea. It not only reneges on its promise not to take sides, denies China’s legitimate interests and supports the arbitration case, but also flexing its muscles and increasing the frequency and intensity of military activities in the South China Sea. Although the United States is not a member of UNCLOS, it has grossly interfered in the election of the INTERNATIONAL Tribunal for the Law of the Sea by encouraging states parties to the CONVENTION not to support China’s candidate on the grounds of the South China Sea issue. The election of the Chinese candidate is a resounding response to the unreasonable actions of the US.

The PURPOSE of the US intervention in the South China Sea is to kidnap countries in the region, drive a wedge and split between China and ASEAN countries, and force ASEAN countries to take sides. A volatile South China Sea will only serve US interests and global ambitions, and regional countries will have to pay the price. Facts have proved that the United States has become the biggest threat to peace in the South China Sea, and has become a spoiler and stumbling block to the development and prosperity of cooperation in the South China Sea.

The US is not only targeting the South China Sea, but also cozying up to Japan, India and Australia to form a “four-nation” mechanism (also known as an “Asian mini-NATO”) to engage in anti-China cliques. This shows that the US is still adhering to the “Cold War” mentality. We don’t make trouble, and we never shy away from it. We will not dance with the US, but use calmness and reason to overcome its impulsiveness and impatience. While firmly safeguarding our own sovereignty, security and development interests, we are ready to work with the US to promote china-us relations based on coordination, cooperation and stability.

If the regional situation continues to deteriorate, countries in the region cannot remain immune. Countries in the region should remain highly vigilant, stay firmly in the lead on South China Sea affairs, continue to follow the dual-track approach in handling the South China Sea issue, and never allow the South China Sea to become a arena for international politics.

Luo zhaohui concluded that a more peaceful, friendly and cooperative South China Sea serves the common interests of countries in the region and people around the world. Let us focus on cooperation instead of confrontation and build an even closer China-Asean community of Shared future.