On 14 July, State Councilor Yang Jiechi gave an interview to state media on the so-called award of the Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration during which he elaborated on China’s position. The full text of the interview is as follows:
Reporter: On 12 July, the Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration issued its so-called award, which attempts to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. In response, China issued a Statement on the Award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration Established at the Request of the Republic of the Philippines, Statement on China’s Territorial Sovereignty and Maritime Rights and Interests in the South China Sea and a White Paper entitled China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, stating China’s solemn position of non-acceptance and non-recognition of the award and reaffirming China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. How do you view the award by the so-called Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration?
Yang Jiechi: The Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration has issued its so-called award. This award is illegal and invalid in every sense. The Chinese government has released relevant statements and a White Paper stating its solemn position of firmly opposing the arbitration and not accepting or recognizing the award. This position of the central government has the strong support and endorsement from people of various social sectors in China. They have expressed their unequivocal attitude of opposing the illegal arbitration and safeguarding sovereign rights and interests by contributing articles and articulating views through the press, TV and SMS as well as online platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
The South China Sea arbitration has been a political farce all along, staged under the cover of law and driven by a hidden agenda. Certain countries outside the region have attempted to deny China’s sovereign rights and interests in the South China Sea through the arbitration. They have even brought other countries into the scheme to isolate and discredit China in the international community with a view to holding back China’s peaceful development. But such attempts are futile, to say the least, and in so doing, they are only lifting a stone to drop it on their own feet. I must point out that the arbitration runs counter to the spirit of international rule of law, puts regional peace and stability in jeopardy, and undermines the interests of the international community. Most countries in the world see this clearly. Over 70 countries and international and regional organizations have made statements showing their understanding of and support for China’s position. This speaks volumes about the attitude of the international community toward the political farce, proving the futility of certain countries’ scheme to hem in and smear China.
Sovereignty is a bottom line for China. Big as China is, we cannot afford to give away a single inch of territory that our ancestors have left to us. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea have been formed over the course of over two thousand years. They are fully backed by historical and legal evidence. Under no circumstances can they ever be negated by a so-called award that is full of nonsense. The award can neither change historical facts nor deny China’s claims of rights and interests in the South China Sea. Still less can it waver our resolve and determination to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. China’s position of not accepting or recognizing the award will not change. At the same time, China will stay committed to following a path of peaceful development, to resolving the disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation and consultation, to developing friendly relations and win-win cooperation with its neighbors, and to working with others to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Reporter: Why do you believe that the Philippines’ initiation of arbitration is against international law?
Yang Jiechi: A basic requirement of international rule of law is that actions must be taken in strict accordance with the law. The crux of disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea are issues concerning territory and maritime delimitation. Territorial issues are not governed by UNCLOS. On maritime delimitation, China made a declaration on optional exceptions in 2006 pursuant with UNCLOS stipulations, excluding it from the dispute settlement mechanisms of UNCLOS. By unilaterally initiating arbitration, the Philippine government under Aquino III has gone against its long-standing bilateral agreement with China that disputes in the South China Sea shall be settled through negotiation, violated the DOC signed in 2002 by China and ASEAN countries, the Philippines included, and breached international law and UNCLOS. Hence, this arbitration has been illegal since the very beginning. It cannot be seen as an application of international law.
Reporter: Why do you think that the Arbitral Tribunal lacks legitimacy and impartiality? Why is the award illegal and invalid?
Yang Jiechi: If you look at the composition of the Arbitral Tribunal, most of the arbitrators were appointed by Shunji Yanai, the then President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and a right-wing Japanese intent on ridding Japan of post-war arrangements. In the proceedings, some arbitrators and experts even backtracked from their long-held views to make the case for the Philippines. Anyone with good sense can see the tricks.
In disregard of China’s staunch position, the Arbitral Tribunal willfully went beyond its authority, turned a blind eye to the history and reality of the South China Sea and misinterpreted relevant stipulations of UNCLOS. It has deviated from UNCLOS from the very beginning and overstepped and expanded its authority to render this award. Naturally, such an award can only be illegal and invalid. The Tribunal can in no way represent international law, still less equity and justice in the world.
Reporter: How will the award affect China’s dotted line in the South China Sea?
Yang Jiechi: History brooks no distortion and law no abuse. China’s sovereignty, rights and relevant claims in the South China Sea are gradually formed and developed by the practice of the Chinese people throughout millennia and have been upheld by successive Chinese governments. As early as in 1948, the Chinese government marked the dotted line in the South China Sea on its officially published map, which affirmed China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and maritime rights and interests in their adjacent waters. This is a historical fact beyond any doubt. As a state party to UNCLOS,China is fully entitled to its rights under UNCLOS. China’s claims of rights and interests in the South China Sea long predate the signing of UNCLOS. They shall by no means be denied by UNCLOS, still less by an unwarranted and flawed award. China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea are protected by both international law and UNCLOS.
Reporter: Given that the award has been rendered, how will China safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea?
Yang Jiechi: The South China Sea, important to the Chinese people since ancient times, is our heritage to which our forefathers devoted their wisdom and even lives. The Chinese government remains unwavering in its resolve to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. The Chinese people do not covet other countries’ interests or envy their development. At the same time, we will never give up our legitimate interests. No country should expect us to trade our core interests away or swallow the bitter consequences of our sovereignty, security and development interests being undermined. The Chinese government and people will remain united and act resolutely to safeguard every inch of our land and every swath of our waters.
Reporter: Some people accuse China of defying international rules by not accepting or recognizing the award of the Tribunal, believing that China has changed its policy of peaceful development. How will you respond to that?
Yang Jiechi: The South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines violated the bilateral agreements between China and the Philippines. It breached regional rules as embodied in the DOC and international rules, including those under UNCLOS. China’s position on the arbitration fully complies with international law. This basic fact has been thoroughly elaborated in a series of position papers issued by the Chinese government. The attempt to mount an all-out smear campaign against China by distorting this basic fact has once again exposed the nature of this arbitration, that is, a farce in which certain countries use international law as a cover to pursue their own hidden agenda.
China has all along been an active player in building up and enhancing the regional and international order. Over 70 years ago, China participated directly in the design and building of the post-war international order. Over the past 70 plus years, China has consistently upheld the international order and system based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter with the United Nations at the center, and steadfastly safeguarded and promoted international rule of law. China will work with other countries to maintain and build a sound international order and international system.
The arbitration will not in the slightest way shake China’s resolve to pursue the path of peaceful development. To seek peaceful development is not a matter of expediency. It is a strategic choice China has made in line with the trend of the time and its own fundamental interests. China remains committed to developing friendly relations with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, and deepening win-win cooperation and connectivity with its neighbors. It adheres to negotiation and consultation as a means for addressing relevant territorial and maritime delimitation issues, and resolutely safeguards peace and stability in the region.
Reporter: What impact will the arbitration case have on China-ASEAN relations? How do you see the prospect of this relationship?
Yang Jiechi: The South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN. In fact, ASEAN has long made clear its neutrality on this issue and its position of not intervening in specific disputes. Therefore, it should not take sides on issues related to the arbitration. China and ASEAN member states have maintained candid and friendly communication regarding the South China Sea issue. The two sides are ready to fully and effectively implement the DOC and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea through continuous dialogue and consultation. In the meantime, we will steadily take forward consultations on the Code of Conduct to promote early conclusion of the COC based on consensus. As for specific disputes, China will maintain communication and consultation with those ASEAN member states who are directly concerned to address them in a proper way. China means what it says and follows a consistent policy.
China-ASAEN relations enjoy sound momentum of growth and broad prospects. This year marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. Over the past quarter century, the China-ASEAN relationship has withstood test of time and produced fruitful outcomes. Two-way trade has grown from less than US$10 billion 25 years ago to nearly US$500 billion, making China and ASEAN each other’s major trading partners. The growth of this relationship has brought tangible benefits to the people of all countries in the region, setting a fine example of countries, big or small, treating each other as equals and working together for common development.
In the coming September, China will be represented at the leadership level at the Summit marking the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations to be held in Laos. The Chinese leader will work with leaders of ASEAN countries in drawing a blueprint for the future development of China-ASEAN relations. They will endeavor to deepen political mutual trust through enhanced strategic communication, and strengthen practical cooperation and people-to-people exchanges to achieve peaceful development for mutual benefit.
Reporter: How do you view the future of China-Philippines relations?
Yang Jiechi: China and the Philippines are close neighbors across the sea. Our friendly exchanges date back over 1,000 years. In recent years, however, bilateral relations have run into serious difficulty as a result of the previous Philippine government’s hostile policy toward China on the South China Sea issue and its unilateral initiation of the arbitration. The arbitration violates both the agreement between China and the Philippines and international law, and goes against the common interests of the two countries and peoples. It is a major political obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations. We call on the new Philippine government to bear in mind the common interests of our two countries and the broader picture of bilateral ties and properly handle relevant issues. As long as China and the Philippines remain committed to the principles and spirit of the DOC, to properly settling differences through dialogue and consultation and growing friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation,our bilateral ties will enjoy a bright future.
Reporter: What is your comment on the frequent intervention by countries outside the region in the South China Sea issue and how will China respond to that?
Yang Jiechi: The arbitration is a case in point of how non-regional countries interfere in the South China Sea issue. It is an issue between littoral countries and should be left to the countries concerned to resolve through peaceful negotiations. Thanks to the concerted efforts of China and the relevant ASEAN countries, the South China Sea has long remained peaceful and stable, laying ground for regional development and prosperity.
In recent years, certain countries outside the region, driven by their own agenda, have frequently intervened in the South China Sea issue under the pretext of upholding “freedom of navigation” and “maintaining regional peace”, leading to an escalation of tension. Such highly irresponsible moves have become the major source of risks that affect peace and stability in the South China Sea.
We have always maintained that China and its neighboring countries in the South China Sea have the wisdom and capability to manage differences and build the area into a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship. We have never rejected the legitimate rights and interests of non-regional countries in the South China Sea. This is what we have being saying and doing. We hope relevant countries will respect the independent choice of China and its neighboring countries in the South China Sea and do more to facilitate sustained peace and stability in the South China Sea, not the contrary.
Reporter: What is China’s approach to resolving the South China Sea issue?
Yang Jiechi: China firmly follows a path of peaceful development, a foreign policy of pursuing friendship and partnership with its neighbors, and a policy of settling disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation. Thanks to these policies, since the founding of the PRC, China has settled boundary issues left over from history with 12 of its 14 neighbors on land. The settlement has been achieved based on historical facts and basic principles of the international law and through bilateral consultation and negotiation. Borders of over 20,000 kilometers have been demarcated, accounting for over 90% of the total length of China’s borders. Moreover,China and Vietnam have delimited the maritime boundary in Beibu Bay through negotiation and consultation. China and the ROK have also launched negotiation on maritime delimitation in the Yellow Sea.
As a major country in the region, China is fully aware of the importance of upholding regional peace and stability and its responsibility in the region. China has all along been firmly opposed to the illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of Nansha Islands by certain countries and their infringement of China’s rights in relevant waters under China’s jurisdiction. That said, China is ready to settle the disputes through peaceful negotiation with countries directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in compliance with international law, UNCLOS included. China is ready to discuss with countries concerned about temporary arrangements pending final settlement of the dispute, which include joint development in relevant waters in the South China Sea for mutual benefits and win-win outcomes, so that together we can maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.