Minister of Chinese Embassy in India Ma Jia Gave Interview to the Asian Age on the South China Sea Issue
2020/09/30

 On September 30, 2020, Minister of Chinese Embassy in India Ms. Ma Jia gave an interview to the Asian Age elaborating the facts and truth on the South China Sea issue. The main content of the interview is as follows:

China’s sovereignty and maritime rights over Nanhai Zhudao (the South China Sea Islands)

Ma Jia: China is the first to have discovered, named, explored and exploited Nanhai Zhudao and relevant waters, and the first to have continuously, peacefully and effectively exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction over them. After World War II, the Chinese government recovered the Xisha Qundao and Nansha Qundao illegally occupied by Japan in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, and declared sovereignty and strengthened jurisdiction by compiling official place names, publishing maps, setting up administrative units and stationing troops. Before the 1970s, China’s sovereignty over Nanhai Zhudao had never been challenged by others. The disputes arose in the 1970s after the discovery of oil and gas in the South China Sea, when some countries around the South China Sea began to illegally occupy some islands and reefs of Nansha Qundao. Since then and later with the formulation and entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), disputes over maritime rights and interests such as exclusive economic zones and continental shelves had arisen between China and relevant countries.

The UNCLOS and the South China Sea Arbitration Case

Ma Jia: The UNCLOS was neither the beginning of international maritime order, nor can it constitute the whole of international maritime order. There are many other international treaties regulating human activities in the oceans and seas. All parties should uphold an objective and fair attitude, faithfully interpret and apply the international maritime laws and regulations including UNCLOS. Regarding the South China Sea Arbitration case, firstly, territorial sovereignty issues are not regulated by UNCLOS. In 2006, pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS, China made an optional exceptions declaration excluding some disputes including maritime delimitation from the compulsory dispute settlement procedures of UNCLOS. Therefore, it was beyond the scope and application of the UNCLOS that the temporary Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration reviewed the territorial sovereignty over islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Secondly, according to the principle of national sovereignty, the jurisdiction of any international judicial or arbitral body must depend on the prior consent of the states concerned. Despite China’s opposition, the Arbitral Tribunal violated the principle of state consent and exercised its jurisdiction ultra vires. Thirdly, by unilaterally initiating arbitration, the Philippines had violated its standing agreement with China to settle the relevant disputes through bilateral negotiation, and its own commitment that the disputes shall be settled by the countries directly concerned through negotiation in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). China has repeatedly stated that the Award rendered by the Arbitration Tribunal is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it. With the improvement of China-Philippines relations, the two countries have reached consensus on properly handling the arbitration case and established a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM), returning to the right track of resolving relevant issues through negotiation and consultation.

Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea

Ma Jia: Close to China’s doorstep, the South China Sea is China’s  maritime lifeline. As the beneficiary and defender of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, China cherishes peace and stability in the South China Sea more than any other countries, and attaches more importance to the unimpeded and safe passage of navigation in the South China Sea. China has deployed necessary defense facilities on islands and reefs in the South China Sea to protect its national sovereignty and security while setting up maritime rescue centers, maritime observation centers, meteorological observation stations and other facilities in order to provide public goods for the international community and to serve the transportation, navigation and personnel safety of all countries. There are around 100,000 vessels passing through the South China Sea each year and no country has ever complained that its merchant ships have been affected. Freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea has never been a problem. But it is just an excuse by some countries outside the region to intervene in the South China Sea affairs that they come from afar to the South China Sea to show off military muscle, create tensions and push up the militarization of the South China Sea. This poses the true and biggest threat to the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

The settlement of disputes

Ma Jia: China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation and managing differences through rules and mechanisms. China has signed boundary treaties and delimited land boundary with 12 of its 14 land neighbors, and has delimited land boundary and maritime boundary in the Beibu Bay with Vietnam. China and ASEAN countries have signed the DOC regarding the South China Sea issue. The consultation on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) is moving forward in a rapid and orderly manner and has now entered the second round of reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text. China and ASEAN countries have found an effective way to properly manage differences, promote practical cooperation and safeguard peace and tranquility in the South China Sea during the progress. It also demonstrates their ability to properly resolve differences through friendly negotiation and consultation and jointly safeguard enduring peace and stability in the region. The South China Sea should not be regarded as an arena for geopolitics, nor a boxing ring where big countries compete. It is hoped that countries outside the region could play a constructive role rather than doing the opposite. China will work with relevant countries to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

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