China, a staunch force for peace and stability in South China Sea

Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-05-31 17:14

BEIJING, May 31 (ChinaMil) -- The so-called South China Sea arbitration and the direct involvement of military forces from major powers outside that region have escalated the South China Sea issue recently.

As a matter of fact, China is the victim in the South China Sea issue, but it has been insisting on settling the disputes through negotiation and consultation and objecting to any words or deeds that can aggravate and expand the disputes, making unremitting efforts to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea region.

To look at the South China Sea issue with an objective, just and rational view, we should find out the truth about the matter from the very beginning.

It is fully evidenced in historical documents that the South China Sea islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times, and China is the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit those islands and the first to continuously exercise sovereign powers over them in a peaceful and effective manner.

After Japan initiated the war of aggression against China in WWII, it occupied most parts of China, including the Xisha and Nansha Islands. After the end of WWII, Japan returned those islands that it had illegally seized to China according to the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation.

From November to December 1946, the Chinese government assigned warships and high-ranking officials to recover the Xisha and Nansha Islands, and announced to the whole world its resumption of exercise of sovereignty over the Nansha Islands through a series of legal procedures, including holding the takeover ceremony, assigning troops to garrison the islands, drawing a map for them, renaming the islands and its components, and compiling and publishing the earliest geographical record of them.

Since then, the international community always acknowledged China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and no country around the South China Sea ever demurred. The so-called South China Sea issue didn't exist for a very long time after WWII.

However, starting from the 1970s, some countries began to illegally occupy maritime features of China's Nansha Islands for the rich oil and gas resources in the South China Sea.

Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam even conducted massive constructions on those illegally occupied islands and reefs, not only building airports, ports, fortress and position, deploying weapons such as artilleries, tanks and even missiles, but also carrying out large-scale resource exploitations in waters adjacent to the Nansha Islands.

Obviously, China is the real victim in the South China Sea issue. Having the right and capability to recover its territory occupied by other countries, China, for the sake of regional peace and stability, has exercised utmost self-restraint and worked hard to settle the disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation with concerned states, and it has reached important consensuses with relevant countries in that regard thanks to its strong advocacy and promotion.

Since the 1990s, China and ASEAN countries have been enhancing communication and cooperation on bilateral and multilateral levels, establishing dialogue and exchange mechanisms, implementing pragmatic cooperation on the sea and properly managing and controlling their disputes, fully demonstrating its sincerity in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea.

On multilateral level, China and ASEAN countries signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, put in place the mechanism of high-level meeting and joint group meeting to implement the Declaration, and reached an agreement on how to implement follow-up guidelines of the Declaration in 2011.

Since then, all signatory parties have worked together and achieved great results in implementing the Declaration, organized and carried out a number of pragmatic maritime cooperation projects, and held positive discussions on setting up three technical cooperation committees, covering navigational safety and rescue, maritime research and environmental protection, and suppression of cross-border crimes on the sea.

In 2013, China and ASEAN countries officially started consultations on the "Code of Conduct in South China Sea" under the framework of implementing the Declaration. In 2014, China proposed to hold consultations more frequently with ASEAN countries and deepen and expand their pragmatic cooperation, with the hope of reaching an agreement on the "code of conduct" at an early date.

Thanks to the unremitting efforts of all parties in the past two years, an "early achievement" has been made. The parties have passed two consensus documents, agreed to open the China-ASEAN hotline for joint maritime search and rescue and the high-level hotline between foreign ministries for dealing with maritime emergencies, and pushed the consultations into the new stage that focused on "important and complicated matters".

China actively advocates and promotes enhanced defense security cooperation with ASEAN countries, opening through telephone lines in defense, and deepening cooperation in non-traditional security areas such as anti-terrorism, fighting cross-border crimes and disaster management, so as to jointly preserve regional peace.

In October 2015, China put forth five suggestions on promoting China-ASEAN defense security cooperation at the China-ASEAN Defense Ministers' Informal Meeting held in Beijing.

Upon China's initiation, China and ASEAN countries held the "CUES (Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea) joint training" and "joint exercises of maritime search, rescue and disaster relief" in waters of the South China Sea.

From May 1 to 10, 2016, the Chinese military assigned warships to participate in the ASEAN Defense Minister's Meeting Plus Maritime Security & Counter Terrorism (ADMM- Plus MS & CT) Exercise held in Brunei, Singapore and waters between them.

China has carried out construction activities on certain maritime features of Nansha Islands in the recent two years. Apart from improving the living conditions for people stationed on those islands and reefs and better safeguarding China's sovereignty, the facilities are mostly for civilian purposes, so that China can better fulfill its international responsibilities and obligations in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation.

The infrastructures China is building now include lighthouse, maritime search and rescue facilities, meteorological observation station, and medical and first aid units. The Chinese government has stated repeatedly and explicitly that when those facilities are completed, they can provide public security products and services for countries in the region, thus making greater contributions to preserving security and stability in the South China Sea.

Although the South China Sea issue is complicated and sensitive, the South China Sea region has remained peaceful and stable in general thanks to joint efforts made by China and ASEAN countries.

The only correct and feasible way of settling South China Sea disputes and preserving regional peace and stability is for directly concerned states to settle their disputes over territorial and maritime rights and interests through dialogue and consultation.

The "waves" caused by the South China Sea arbitration won't change the history and fact that China has sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and adjacent waters, nor will they shake China's resolve and will to preserve national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, or affect China's policy and stance to settle disputes through direct negotiation and to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea in conjunction with countries in the region.

China stands ready to continue working with regional countries and build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

By Zhang Junshe, senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute

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