Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Niu Qingbao | South China Sea arbitration hurts China and international rule of law (Part II)

Published:Monday | May 30, 2016 | 12:00 AMNiu Qingbao
Niu Qingbao

The following is the continuation of a column by Niu Qingbao, China's ambassador to Jamaica, on the ongoing South China Sea dispute involving the Philippines. Part one of this column appeared on Friday, May 27.

Stories have been made about China's construction activities on some islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands, accusing China's construction activities of affecting freedom of navigation and overflight, bringing damage to the coral reefs and marine ecological system, and breaching the DOC, etc.

These accusations are, however, neither true nor fair.

First, China's construction activities on some maritime features of the Nansha Islands fall within the scope of its sovereignty. It is lawful, reasonable and justifiable for China to conduct construction activities on its own islands and reefs, which is no more than exercising the lawful rights that international law grants to a sovereign state. Such construction activities are not targeting at any country, and do not affect in any way freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea enjoyed by all countries in accordance with international law.

Second, as the owner of the Nansha Islands, China cares about protecting the ecological environment of relevant islands, reefs and waters more than other countries.

Committed to an ecological environment preservation notion of "green project, green islands and reefs", and based on thorough studies and scientific proof, China adopts dynamic protection measures along the whole process so as to synchronise ecological environment preservation with construction activities, and realise sustainability of the relevant islands and reefs.

 

PROTECTION WILL BE ENHANCED

 

Once China's construction activities are completed, ecological environmental protection on the relevant islands and reefs will be notably enhanced and such action will stand the test of time.

Third, apart from meeting necessary and legitimate defence needs, such construction activities also satisfy all sorts of civilian needs. They improve the living and working conditions of the Chinese staff stationed there and better China's international responsibilities and obligations concerning maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research, meteorological observation, ecological environment preservation, navigation safety, fishery production and services, etc. Such construction activities are in keeping with international law and do not contravene the DOC.

Last, but not least, it needs to be pointed out that China is the last of the countries in the South China Sea to engage in construction. Since the 1970s, countries like the Philippines and Vietnam have illegally occupied numerous islands and reefs of China's Nansha Islands and then engaged in massive construction on these islands and reefs, which has seriously violated China's territorial sovereignty and basic norms of international law. Ironically, those who are accusing China of its lawful construction now were mute about the illegal construction of countries like the Philippines in the South China Sea for decades.

Although the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines has no legitimacy, and by no means it would settle the South China Sea disputes, there still could be a peaceful solution that is achieved in accordance with international law, satisfying to parties directly concerned, and better serving the interests of them and the whole region. China, as a responsible country as well as a staunch defender and builder of international rule of law, has made and continues to make great efforts to this end.

In order to uphold regional peace and stability, China has all along exercised great restraint, handled the South China Sea disputes in a responsible and constructive manner and committed itself to resolving the relevant disputes in a peaceful manner through negotiations and consultations, to seek win-win outcomes through joint development and cooperation, and to upholding freedom of navigation and overflight as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea.

China also supports and advocates the 'dual track' approach initiated by ASEAN member states to handle the South China Sea disputes, that is, while relevant disputes are to be resolved through negotiations between countries directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and according to international law; China and ASEAN member states will work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. This approach complies with international law and relevant international practices, reflects the important understanding and solemn commitment of China and ASEAN member states in the DOC, and represents the most realistic and effective way to properly handle the South China Sea disputes at present.

Settling disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation through negotiations is widely endorsed by the international community. Since issues such as territorial sovereignty and maritime rights concern a country's core interests, no sovereign states, if put in China's position, will accept the jurisdiction of third-party mechanisms that are not chosen by them voluntarily, not to mention accepting solutions imposed by such mechanisms. As a matter of fact, the settlement of maritime disputes through negotiations and consultations received overwhelming support at the 3rd United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea which negotiated UNCLOS.

Even when it comes to today, China is nowhere near being alone on maintaining such positions. While the arbitration is getting attention worldwide, more and more countries have come to understand and support China's positions. A few days ago, China and 21 member countries of the Arab League jointly issued the Doha Declaration, stressing that the Arab states support a peaceful settlement of territorial and maritime disputes between China and relevant countries through friendly consultations and negotiations based on bilateral agreements and consensus among regional countries. It makes a special point in mentioning that the right of sovereign states, and signatory parties to UNCLOS, to settle disputes with an approach of their own choice, in accordance with the law, must be respected.

This is just an example of the many statements issued in support of China's positions. Among countries that have made similar statements since April are ASEAN member states such as Brunei, Cambodia and Laos; BRICS countries such as Russia and India; Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait; as well as countries from other relatively distant continents such as Venezuela, Gabon, Niger, Gambia, Burundi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Fiji, Belarus, Poland, Slovenia.

Up to now, well over 40 countries have openly sided with China on the arbitration issue. Their statements are in line with the international practice of resolving disputes through negotiations and consultations, respect the essence of the international rule of law, and mirror the fair and objective opinion the international community holds on the relevant issue. The moral? A just cause enjoys abundant support!

Jamaica is geographically far from the South China Sea, but in all our joint efforts in maintaining international rule of law and fighting against threats to peace, distance never prevents us from standing close. As far as UNCLOS is concerned, history remembers that it was the hospitality of Jamaican people that witnessed 119 countries signing UNCLOS at Montego Bay on December 10, 1982 - the largest number of signatures ever affixed to a treaty on its first-day opening for signature. Jamaica can take a leading role in preventing UNCLOS from being distorted and abused by the Philippines. After all, it is in the fundamental interests of the world as a whole to defend the wholeness and authority of UNCLOS.

- Niu Qingbao is the Chinese ambassador to Jamaica.