V. China’s Policy on the South China Sea Issue
121. China is an important force for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. It abides by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and is committed to upholding and promoting international rule of law. It respects and acts in accordance with international law. While firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation and managing differences through rules and mechanisms. China endeavors to achieve win-win outcomes through mutually beneficial cooperation, and is committed to making the South China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.
122. China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea with other countries in the region and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea enjoyed by other countries under international law. China urges countries outside this region to respect the efforts in this regard by countries in the region and to play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.
i. On the territorial issues concerning Nansha Qundao
123. China is firm in upholding its sovereignty over Nanhai Zhudao and their surrounding waters. Some countries have made illegal territorial claims over and occupied by force some islands and reefs of Nansha Qundao. These illegal claims and occupation constitute gross violations of the Charter of the United Nations and basic norms governing international relations. They are null and void. China consistently and resolutely opposes such actions and demands that relevant states stop their violation of China’s territory.
124. China has spared no efforts to settle, on the basis of respecting historical facts, relevant disputes with the Philippines and other countries directly concerned, through negotiation in accordance with international law.
125. It is universally recognized that land territorial issues are not regulated by UNCLOS. Thus, the territorial issue in Nansha Qundao is not subject to UNCLOS.
ii. On maritime delimitation in the South China Sea
126. China maintains that the issue of maritime delimitation in the South China Sea should be settled equitably through negotiation with countries directly concerned in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS. Pending the final settlement of this issue, all relevant parties must exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that may complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.
127. When ratifying UNCLOS in 1996, China stated that, “The People’s Republic of China will effect, through consultations, the delimitation of the boundary of the maritime jurisdiction with the States with coasts opposite or adjacent to China respectively on the basis of international law and in accordance with the principle of equitability.” China’s positions in this regard are further elaborated in the 1998 Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf. This Law provides that, “The People’s Republic of China shall determine the delimitation of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in respect of the overlapping claims by agreement with the states with opposite or adjacent coasts, in accordance with the principle of equitability and on the basis of international law”, and that, “The provisions in this law shall not affect the historical rights that the People’s Republic of China has been enjoying ever since the days of the past”.
128. China does not accept any unilateral action attempting to enforce maritime claims against China. Nor does China recognize any action that may jeopardize its maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.
iii. On the ways and means of dispute settlement
129. Based on an in-depth understanding of international practice and its own rich practice, China firmly believes that no matter what mechanism or means is chosen for settling disputes between any countries, the consent of states concerned should be the basis of that choice, and the will of sovereign states should not be violated.
130. On issues concerning territory and maritime delimitation, China does not accept any means of dispute settlement imposed on it, nor does it accept any recourse to third-party settlement. On 25 August 2006, China deposited, pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS, with the Secretary-General of the United Nations a declaration, stating that, “The Government of the People’s Republic of China does not accept any of the procedures provided for in Section 2 of Part XV of the Convention with respect to all the categories of disputes referred to in paragraph 1 (a), (b) and (c) of Article 298 of the Convention”. This explicitly excludes from UNCLOS compulsory dispute settlement procedures disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bays or titles, military and law enforcement activities, and disputes in respect of which the Security Council of the United Nations is exercising the functions assigned to it by the Charter of the United Nations.
131. Since its founding, the People’s Republic of China has signed boundary treaties with 12 of its 14 land neighbors through bilateral negotiations and consultations in a spirit of equality and mutual understanding, and about 90% of China’s land boundaries have been delimited and demarcated. China and Vietnam have delimited through negotiations the boundary between their territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves in the Beibu Bay. China’s sincerity in settling disputes through negotiation and its unremitting efforts made in this respect are known to all. It is self-evident that negotiation directly reflects the will of states. The parties directly participate in the formulation of the result. Practice demonstrates that a negotiated outcome will better gain the understanding and support of the people of countries concerned, will be effectively implemented and will be durable. Only when an agreement is reached by parties concerned through negotiation on an equal footing can a dispute be settled once and for all, and this will ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement.
iv. On managing differences and engaging in practical maritime cooperation in the South China Sea
132. In keeping with international law and practice, pending final settlement of maritime disputes, the states concerned should exercise restraint and make every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, including establishing and improving dispute management rules and mechanisms, engaging in cooperation in various sectors, and promoting joint development while shelving differences, so as to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea region and create conditions for the final settlement of disputes. Relevant cooperation and joint development are without prejudice to the final delimitation.
133. China works actively to promote the establishment of bilateral maritime consultation mechanisms with relevant states, explores joint development in areas such as fishery, oil and gas, and champions the active exploration by relevant countries in establishing a cooperation mechanism among the South China Sea coastal states in accordance with relevant provisions of UNCLOS.
134. China is always dedicated to working with ASEAN Member States to fully and effectively implement the DOC and actively promote practical maritime cooperation. Together the Parties have already achieved “Early Harvest Measures”, including the “Hotline Platform on Search and Rescue among China and ASEAN Member States”, the “Senior Officials’ Hotline Platform in Response to Maritime Emergencies among Ministries of Foreign Affairs of China and ASEAN Member States”, as well as the “Table-top Exercise of Search and Rescue among China and ASEAN Member States”.
135. China consistently maintains that the Parties should push forward consultations on a “Code of Conduct” (COC) under the framework of full and effective implementation of the DOC, with a view to achieving an early conclusion on the basis of consensus. In order to properly manage risks at sea, pending the final conclusion of a COC, China proposed the adoption of “Preventive Measures to Manage Risks at Sea”. This proposal has been unanimously accepted by all ASEAN Member States.
v. On freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea
136. China is committed to upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states under international law, and ensuring the safety of sea lanes of communication.
137. The South China Sea is home to a number of important sea lanes, which are among the main navigation routes for China’s foreign trade and energy import. Ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight and safety of sea lanes in the South China Sea is crucial to China. Over the years, China has worked with ASEAN Member States to ensure unimpeded access to and safety of the sea lanes in the South China Sea and made important contribution to this collective endeavor. The freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states in the South China Sea under international law has never been a problem.
138. China has actively provided international public goods and made every effort to provide services, such as navigation and navigational aids, search and rescue, as well as sea conditions and meteorological forecast, through capacity building in various areas, so as to uphold and promote the safety of sea lanes in the South China Sea.
139. China maintains that, when exercising freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, relevant parties shall fully respect the sovereignty and security interests of coastal states and abide by the laws and regulations enacted by coastal states in accordance with UNCLOS and other rules of international law.
vi. On jointly upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea
140. China maintains that peace and stability in the South China Sea should be jointly upheld by China and ASEAN Member States.
141. China pursues peaceful development and adheres to a defense policy that is defensive in nature. China champions a new security vision featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, and pursues a foreign policy of building friendship and partnership with its neighbors and of fostering an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood based on the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. China is a staunch force for upholding peace and stability and advancing cooperation and development in the South China Sea. China is committed to strengthening good-neighborliness and promoting practical cooperation with its neighbors and regional organizations including ASEAN to deliver mutual benefit.
142. The South China Sea is a bridge of communication and a bond of peace, friendship, cooperation and development between China and its neighbors. Peace and stability in the South China Sea is vital to the security, development and prosperity of the countries and the well-being of the people in the region. To realize peace, stability, prosperity and development in the South China Sea region is the shared aspiration and responsibility of China and ASEAN Member States, and serves the common interests of all countries.
143. China will continue to make unremitting efforts to achieve this goal.