By H.E. Mr. Liu Xingsheng, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Cyprus
IN recent times, the South China Sea issue has caught the international limelight. Some countries deliberately hyped up the South China Sea issue in the international arena. In disregard of basic historical facts, they are trying to make a big fuss about China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and turned a blind eye to China’s goodwill.
China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and the adjacent waters. Chinese activities in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago. China was the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit the resources of the South China Sea Islands and the first to continuously exercise sovereign powers over them.
Successive Chinese governments have exercised continuous jurisdiction over the islands.
From the 1930s to 1940s, Japan illegally seized some parts of the South China Sea Islands during its war of aggression against China. At the end of the Second World War, the Chinese Government resumed exercise of sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands. Military personnel and government officials were sent via naval vessels to hold resumption of authority ceremonies. In 1947, China renamed the maritime features of the South China Sea Islands and, in 1948, published an official map which displayed a dotted line in the South China Sea.
Both the Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone expressly provide that the territory of the People’s Republic of China includes, among others, the Dongsha Islands, the Xisha Islands, the Zhongsha Islands and the Nansha Islands.
The islands were marked and recognised as Chinese not only in Chinese maps but also maps of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and the Philippines until the 1970s. All those acts affirm China’s territorial sovereignty and relevant maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.
In the late 1960s, the Energy Crisis and the discovery of abundant oil reserves in the Nansha water provided fresh incentives for other claimants to covet and grab China’s Nansha Islands (or the Spratly Islands). To vie for interests in oil resources and despite China’s clear opposition, some countries laid territorial claims to China’s Nansha Islands and illegally occupied some of the islands and reefs and exploited oil and gas in the waters, giving rise to the South China Sea issue.
A bigger wave of encroachment of the Nansha Islands happened in the 1970s and 1980s. Entering the 1990s, Vietnam occupied five more reefs, bringing a total of 29 islands and reefs under its control. Malaysia seized two more reefs in 1999. The Philippines also orchestrated a number of provocations on China’s Nansha Islands.
For the purpose of managing disputes among the parties and maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, the Chinese government, with a view to stopping the dispute from boiling over and maintaining the sound China-ASEAN partnership, resorted to all-round diplomatic efforts on the consultations with countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and especially the Philippines.
In the meanwhile, China and ASEAN countries started their communication in the 1990s to jointly explore a dispute settlement approach suitable for the region. After a long period of consultation and mutual adaptation, China and the ten ASEAN countries officially signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2002, which announced to the world that regional countries had an official document to follow when dealing with issues in the South China Sea.
The DOC won the reputation of a “stability anchor.” Article 4 of the DOC stipulates that, “The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
With eight more years of joint efforts, China and the ten ASEAN countries reached agreement on the Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC in 2011, and started the historical process of fully and effectively implementing the DOC.
However, several years ago, some countries changed their constructive attitude for good faith cooperation in the past, gone back on their commitment under the DOC and trampled on the common efforts of relevant countries in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea. It meticulously planned an “arbitration” farce with the instigation and support of some country outside the region in an attempt to re-create disputes in the South China Sea, to deny China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands.
In fact, the key to overcoming difficulties has always been in the hands of regional countries, that is, to settle disputes through negotiations and consultations between countries directly concerned.
This has been China’s consistent policy and practice over the past 60 years since the founding of New China. So far, China has resolved boundary issues with 12 neighbours on land through negotiations, including Russia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nepal, Mongolia, Burma etc. and demarcated around 20,000 kilometres, or 90 per cent of its boundary.
The Chinese people understand far too well how precious freedom, equality, fairness and justice should be. China always opposes hegemony and power politics and firmly upholds equity and justice in international relations. It has never imposed on others the injustice it once suffered, nor will it ever do so. That is why China has been winning friends all over the world.
China remains committed to the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea enjoyed by all countries in accordance with international law. China is willing to handle its dispute with the parties directly concerned with utmost goodwill, and seek a solution through bilateral consultation and negotiation, to work with ASEAN countries to advance COC consultations within the framework of full and effective implementation of the DOC, and to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.