The South China Sea Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. The Chinese people were the first to discover, name and develop these islands. It was the Chinese administration that first exercised sovereignty over them, a practice that has been continued in a peaceful and effective manner without interruption.
In 1939, Japan invaded and illegally occupied the Nansha Islands (within the South China Sea) during the war of aggression against China. After World War II, in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, the Chinese territories that Japan had occupied illegally, including Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands were restored to China. Before the 1970s, it was widely recognized by the international community that the South China Sea Islands belong to China and no country ever challenged this.
In 1968, a survey conducted by an affiliate of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) indicated rich oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea. Starting from the 1970s, the Philippines embarked on their territorial expansion by occupying illegally 8 Nansha islands and reefs.
The recent round of buzz has been heating up since the Philippines unilaterally initiated the South China Sea arbitration to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in January 2013. The Philippines’ requests are, in essence, about territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation. The Chinese government has made it crystal clear that China does not accept nor participate in the arbitration, and will never recognize the so-called “award”. Why?
The crux of China-Philippines disputes in the South China Sea is the territorial dispute caused by the Philippines’ invasion and illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands since the 1970s. Besides, the Philippines attempted to deny China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands with its maritime jurisdiction claims on the grounds that the Nansha Islands is located within 200 nautical miles off their coasts. We could see that the disputes are actually about territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation.
Territorial issues are subject to general international law, which is not under the jurisdiction of the ITLOS. The declaration on optional exceptions China made in 2006 in accordance with Article 298 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), excludes disputes concerning maritime delimitation from the dispute settlement procedures provided for in the UNCLOS. Similar declarations had been made by 30-odds countries such as Britain, France, Russia. So the arbitration court established has no jurisdiction over the disputes between China and the Philippines. By not accepting nor participating in the Arbitration, China is upholding its right under the international law. China’s position demonstrates its commitment to international law. Moreover, a few years back, such as in 2011, China and the Philippines already reached agreement to resolve the dispute through bilateral consultations and negotiations. “Pacta sunt servanda” is a basic principle in international law. The Philippines’ unilaterally initiating the arbitration and violating the agreement is an act of dishonoring its commitment on the part of the Philippines in bilateral agreement. At the regional level, China and ASEAN Member States signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, and agreed on the Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC in 2011. The DOC stipulates that the parties concerned undertake to solve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly negotiations by relevant sovereign states concerned. Surprisingly, the Philippines unilaterally initiated arbitration by going back on its own promises in 2013.
The purpose of the Philippines of initiating the Arbitration is meant to occupy illegally the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands. However, according to the Treaty of Peace Between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain and other relevant documents, the western boundary of the Philippines is delimited by 118 degrees east longitude, whereas the islands and reefs the Philippines illegally occupied and claimed sovereignty are all to the west of 118 degrees east longitude. They are obviously not the Philippines’ territory.
China is a victim on the South China Sea issue. However, with a view to holding peace and stability in the South China Sea, China has exercised utmost restraint. China’s position on the South China Sea Issue is consistent and clear-cut. We are committed to resolving the disputes in a peaceful manner through negotiations and consultations between the states directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. The Philippines, in disregard of China’s opposition, has obdurately followed a wrong policy at the expense of jeopardizing overall regional peace and stability, putting up a farce of contravention of international law. What the Philippines is doing this time around is no other than lifting the rocks to fall on its own feet.
Negotiations and consultations can best represent the principle of equality among sovereign states and is the most effective way to settle disputes. China borders 14 countries on land and has a land-boundary of about 22,000 km. Up to now, China has signed border treaties with 12 out of the 14 land neighbors with over 20,000 km delineated and demarcated borderlines. After more than 20 years of negotiations, China and Vietnam completed the delimitation of maritime boundary in the Beibu Gulf. Thanks to the effective efforts of China and ASEAN Member States, the South China Sea has long been peaceful and stable rather than tense as claimed by certain countries.
China, as a peace-loving country, has been all along following a good-neighborly policy, contributing to the peace and development of the region and the South China Sea. It is our sincere hope that the South China Sea could be one of friendship, cooperation and peace. Actually, there are more than 100,000 commercial vessels from various countries pass the South China Sea each year without encountering any problems. Up till now, never has anybody heard of any tension whatsoever or feel threatened in navigation there. The Chinese people have never yielded to outside pressure, nor would anyone be able to force China to surrender its sovereignty and territorial integrity.