On July 15, The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times and The Mercury of the Independent Media published the exclusive interview given by Ambassador Tian Xuejun on the so-called award by the Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration. Ambassador Tian comprehensively elaborated on China’s position. He emphasized that the so-called award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. He pointed out that China is committed to safeguarding the international rule of law as well as rules of the region, and upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea. China will continue to solve the South China Sea disputes with countries directly concerned through consultation and negotiations. More and more countries and people choose to support China’s position.
The full text of the interview is as follows:
1. The Arbitral Tribunal in Hague issued its award on the South China Sea Arbitration on July 12th, which was unilaterally initiated by the Philippines. What is your view on the arbitration and the court’s decision?
The South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the former government of the Republic of Philippines is not a pure legal case, but a result of political manipulation. The Arbitral Tribunal, consisting of five people, is not an international court. It does not belong to the International Court of Justice under the framework of the United Nations. Neither does it belong to the system of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea nor the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). It is only a temporary team that uses relevant service of PCA. Thus, the Arbitral Tribunal is not representative, authoritative and credible and it can not represent International Law and its award is certainly null and void.
The South China Sea arbitration is destined to become a notorious case in the history of International Law. China has made it clear that we do not accept and recognize the award. The former government of the Philippines and the Arbitral Tribunal, by pushing forward the arbitration proceedings, have not only infringed on China’s sovereignty as well as maritime rights and interests, but also undermined the integrity and authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Their acts go against the International Law’s principle of telling right from wrong and solving disputes. The arbitration was conducted according to unwarranted procedure and application of law, and was based on flawed evidence and facts. Such as it is, it will never be accepted by the Chinese people. Nor will it be recognized by anyone in the world who stands on the side of justice.
2. If you believe that the Arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case, and China decided to neither participate in the arbitration nor accept the award, could this give the international community the impression that China is challenging international rules?
The South China Sea Islands (Nanhai Zhudao) have been an integral part of China’s territory since ancient times. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea are not new claims. These have been formed in the long course of history, and have been upheld by the successive Chinese governments.
The Philippines’ invasion and illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands (Nansha Qundao) caused the territorial issue between China and the Philippines. There also exist the maritime delimitation disputes in the region. These two issues constitute the crux of the relevant disputes in the South China Sea. Territorial issues are not subject to the UNCLOS. Moreover, maritime delimitation disputes have been excluded from the application of the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedures by the optional exceptions declaration that China made in 2006, a legitimate right of the signatories to UNCLOS pursuant to its Article 298. In fact, over 30 other countries, including UK, France and Russia have made similar exclusion declaration. The United States, however, is not a State Party to UNCLOS.
The unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Philippines aims to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. The unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Philippines runs counter to UNCLOS and its restrictive provisions concerning the application of arbitral procedures, and runs against the general practice that arbitration shall be premised on state consent. As a State Party to UNCLOS, China’s right to choose means of dispute settlement of its own has also been infringed on. And let us not overlook the fact that China and the Philippines have already agreed to peacefully settle disputes through direct negotiation and consultation in a number of bilateral instruments. China and ASEAN countries also made such solemn commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. We are caught in the current situation because the Philippines violates the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”.
The establishment of the Arbitral Tribunal is based on the Philippines’ illegal actions and unlawful submissions and has no legitimacy. The Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case and its award is clearly out of the Arbitral Tribunal’s acts of self-expansion of power and ultra vires, and has no legal effect.
Therefore, the real challenge to international rules comes from the unilateral initiation of the arbitration by the former government of the Philippines and the Tribunal’s decision to willfully expand and exceed its jurisdiction. By taking the position of not accepting or recognizing the so-called award, China not only upholds its own legitimate rights, but also safeguards international rule of law and rules of the region.
3. How will the court’s decision affect the dynamics in the South China Sea in the near future? Will the decision change China’s basic position regarding the settlement of the South China Sea issue?
China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, which are based on solid historical and legal ground, shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards.
I want to emphasize that China always upholds the equity and justice of the international rule of law and pursues peaceful development. China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. And China also stands ready to continue to resolve the relevant disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation with the states directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. Pending final settlement, China is willing to make every effort with the states directly concerned to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, including joint development in relevant maritime areas, in order to achieve win-win results.
4. China is a large country, while the other South China Sea claimants are smaller in comparison. Some argue that these smaller claimants are in an unfavorable position when they negotiate with China on the South China Sea issue. Is that really true?
China advocates that all countries, irrespective of their size, strength and wealth, are equal in the international community and should develop their relations based on mutual respect and equality. China is committed to developing amicable relationships and partnerships with our neighbors. Over the past decades, China has properly resolved its boundary questions with 12 out of 14 land neighbors. China and Vietnam have delimited maritime boundary at the Beibu Gulf through negotiation. There have been lots of experiences and good stories that China could share in this regard.
As the saying goes, “The tree may wish for calm, but the wind will not subside”. It is very easy to tell who caused and escalated the tensions in the South China Sea. The arbitration is a political scheme under the cloak of law. Through the proxy’s acts, people can easily find the trace of certain big power who staged and pushed forward the arbitration. We only need to remind ourselves of the troubles certain big power has caused in other parts of the world to develop a more accurate understanding of what is really going on in the South China Sea.
Now the arbitration farce is over. It is time that things come back to normal. China has noted the latest statements by the new government of the Philippines, including its readiness to re-open consultation and dialogue with China on the South China Sea issue. China hopes that the goodwill of the new Philippine government for improving relations with China will be accompanied with real actions. We also hope that the Philippine side will work with us to properly manage differences and bring our bilateral relations back to the track of healthy development at an early date.
5. After the judgment was given, some countries have argued that China should accept the result, while others – especially many developing countries – have articulated their support for China’s position. What is your perception of these different responses from the international community?
Everyone is entitled to his own yardstick in judging the justice. In fact, more and more countries in the world as well as people with vision have expressed concerns and doubt about the case, especially legal experts worldwide. More than 60 countries have publicly expressed their understanding and support for China’s position, and some have even expressed their concerns over the politicization of the South China Sea situation. These are voices of justice that the international community should well listen to.
6. Does China have any intention of pulling out of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea? Will China extend its Air Defence Identification Zone over all of its territory in the South China Sea?
By taking the position of not accepting or recognizing the so-called award, China upholds its own legitimate rights and safeguards international rule of law and rules of the region. As a signatory to UNCLOS, we maintain that UNCLOS should be fully interpreted and applied with good will and in its entirety, as this will help maintain the international maritime legal order and serve the overall interests of the international community.
China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states under international law in the South China Sea, and stays ready to work with other coastal states and the international community to ensure the safety of and the unimpeded access to the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea.