At a regular news briefing held in Beijing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said that China's sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and the surrounding waters is "indisputable."
Kong made the remark in a reply to claims that certain countries, which he would not name, had unilaterally invited international bidding on oil and natural gas exploration in the South China Sea.
He said China is willing to consult with the relevant parties on ways of handling the dispute and jointly exploiting the resources.
Kong noted that China was gravely concerned over the unilateral oil and natural gas bidding in a disputed area in the South China Sea, and urged the related countries to correct the wrongdoing to avoid further complication of the situation there.
Kong also expressed hope that involved international oil companies would respect China's sovereignty and not take any actions that may infringe China's sovereignty and its marine rights and interests.
According to the spokesman, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will pay an official visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) from March 23 to 25 at the invitation of DPRK Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun.
It is the first official visit in five years paid by a Chinese foreign minister to the DPRK and it will be an important contact between the two countries, Kong said.
The two sides will exchange views on Sino-DPRK relations and regional and international issues that are a concern to both, including the six-party talks on the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula, he added.
Kong also said that Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea (ROK) will pay an official visit to China from March 28 to 30 at the invitation of Li.
Moving on to the Korean nuclear issue, the spokesman said that establishing a working group as soon as possible is "indispensable" for the third round of six-party talks to make substantial progress.
Kong said the working group could hold comprehensive discussions on the topics, agenda, discussion approach and other possible issues at a lower level under the six-party talks in order to ensure the third round talks continue to make progress.
"I hope the six parties can closely work together to accomplish the mission", Kong added.
According to Kong, China maintains contacts with relevant parties after the second six-party talks in February and has delivered documents on a possible working arena and discussion topics for the working group to the other five countries concerned.
The discussions and exchange of views achieved positive outcomes and China hopes the working group could be set up as soon as possible so as to build a solid foundation for the third round of six-party talks, Kong noted.
Kong said China also hopes the parties concerned would continue to uphold firm political commitments while show flexibility on specific issues to enlarge consensus and narrow differences for progress in peaceful solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking of an ROK citizen who has been in prison in China due to charges of organizing illegal border crossings, Kong said the man, Seok Jae-hyun, will be released today.
The man was sentenced last May. In light of the friendship between China and the ROK and through certain judiciary means, it has been decided that the man can be released ahead of the usual time.
However, Kong stressed, the release does not change the fact that Seok committed a crime.
He said ROK citizens are welcome to come to China to tour, do business and study, but added that all should abide by Chinese law.
He reiterated that the Chinese government deals with illegal border crossers according to domestic law, international law and the humanitarian principles.
But any organizers of illegal border crossing will be punished in China, Kong added.
At the briefing Kong also announced that the 60th session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) of the United Nations (UN) will be held in Shanghai from April 22 to 28.
Prior to the session, the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries (PIDCs), an ESCAP subordinate body, will hold its eighth meeting from April 20-21, Kong said.
Themed "meeting the challenges in an era of globalization by strengthening regional development cooperation", the session will cover a wide range of topics, including regional economic and social situation, poverty reduction, globalization and social issues.
"It is of special significance for ESCAP to hold its 60th session at its birth place," said Kong, adding that China was looking forward to working jointly with all parties concerned to ensure the session was a great success.
The Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), the fore-runner of ESCAP, was founded in Shanghai in 1947.
ESCAP is the longest-standing inter-governmental multilateral economic and social development organization in Asia and the Pacific region with the widest representation.
In the past decades, ESCAP has served as an important channel for its members to exchange experience and expand cooperation, and has played an important role in promoting the economic and social development in the region.
According to Kong, Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan will attend the opening ceremony. Former Vice Premier Qian Qichen will attend the High Level Visionary Meeting for Asia and the Pacific 2020. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will head a Chinese delegation to the session and will also serve as the chairman.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will attend the opening ceremony and all 62 members and associate members will send their ministerial or high-level delegations to the session.
In addition, an international conference on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to be held from March 25 to 27 in Beijing, the spokesman announced.
The conference will be jointly held by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and offices of UN organizations in China.
Kong said Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan will attend the opening of the conference and deliver a speech.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will send a representative to the meeting, Kong said. Participants will include representatives from the Chinese and foreign governments, international organizations, academic organizations and business communities from home and overseas, Kong said.
Participants will share experience involving the Millennium Development Goals and explore ways for cooperation, Kong said.
The MDGs grew out of a gathering of 189 world leaders at the United Nations in September 2000, when attendees proclaimed the Millennium Declaration.
This statement gave voice to the values shared by all member nations and resulted in a commitment by those nations to halve global poverty by 2015.
The eight MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve material health, combat HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.
Also at the briefing Kong reiterated China's stance on the Iraq issue.
Kong said the Chinese government holds that international disputes and conflicts should be resolved through dialogue or other political way and under the framework of the UN Security Council, which is responsible for world peace and stability.
Kong said practice in the past year has proved that China's stance is right.
The situation in Iraq did not improve in the past year, with bombing attacks constantly happening recently, Kong said, adding that the international community including the Chinese government and people showed deep concern over the current situation in Iraq.
He expressed the hope that Iraq resume stability, realize "Iraqi people governing Iraq" and start reconstruction work as soon as possible, so as to allow the Iraqi people to live a peaceful and stable life, which is also the common desire of the international community, Kong said.
(Sources including Xinhua News Agency and China Daily, March 19, 2004)