China not to fall into the trap of S. China Sea arbitration

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China will not give certain countries the satisfaction of tricking it into the trap of the South China Sea arbitration, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, said on Thursday.

In an article carried by Independent Media's nationwide newspaper The Star, Tian reveals the fallacy of the arbitration and reiterates the legitimacy of China's decision of neither participating in nor accepting the arbitration.

The ambassador elaborates on the practicability and effectiveness of the China-proposed settlement of disputes through peaceful negotiation and voices China's consistent and clear commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in the South China Sea region.

The daily Pretoria News also published this article, titled "China Will Not Fall into the Trap of South China Sea Arbitration."

Recently, the arbitration case around the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea has caught certain media attention around the world.

"With its seeming relevance to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international arbitration, many would be easily misled to view this issue as a matter of law, without giving much thought to the political aspect of the issue: What is the Philippines really up to? Who has really staged the whole political provocation? " the ambassador writes.

As a responsible member of the international community, China is strongly committed to the integrity and seriousness of the Convention and always opposes any attempt on political gains through the abuse or distortion of the Convention, says the ambassador.

The "disputed" Nansha Islands have long been part of the Chinese territory, which is not only supported by numerous historical evidence since ancient times, but also by the many international treaties from modern times. The heart of the South China Sea issue is the territorial dispute and the resulting maritime delimitation dispute caused by the Philippines' and some others' illegal seizure of China's Nansha Islands.

"What the Philippines really wants from this arbitration is to legitimize these unlawful seizures of the Chinese territory, despite the great lengths it has gone to make it look otherwise," the ambassador notes.

People who are familiar with the Convention should know that territorial issues are beyond the purview of the Convention, he says.

As for the maritime delimitation, in pursuant to Article 298 of the Convention, China made an exclusion declaration in 2006, thereby lawfully excluding itself from any compulsory dispute settlement procedure by a third-party. Apart from China, over 30 other countries, including Britain and France, have made the same exclusion declaration.

In this connection, the compulsory dispute settlement procedure of the Convention does not apply to the dispute between China and the Philippines, which is therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the international arbitration tribunal, Tian says.

"It has always been China's consistent policy that we do not participate in or accept the so-called arbitration, because with the arbitration itself being illegal, any decision that comes out of the process must be void," he stresses.

People who are familiar with the Convention are also aware that when it comes to dispute settlement, the provisions of the Convention are not solely about arbitration, but also attach equal importance to negotiations, stressing the need to respect contracting parties' independent choice for dispute settlement, Tian says.

In the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it is explicitly declared that the parties concerned should undertake to resolve their disputes by consultations and negotiations. This principle has also been reaffirmed in multiple bilateral instruments including joint statement between the governments of China and the Philippines.

"Unfortunately, of all the claims that the Philippines submitted to the arbitration tribunal, including the question of whether there is dispute over the interpretation and applicability of the Convention, none has been through serious consultation with China. Such behavior of the Philippines not only breached the agreement to resolve dispute through consultation as provided for in the DOC and bilateral instruments between the two countries, it also violated the principle that arbitration must be based on mutual consent," the ambassador writes.

He refutes the argument that China is such a big country that the Philippines is simply too small to stand up to in bilateral negotiation to settle territorial and maritime dispute.

"Such narrative against China is clearly a result of conventional bias towards large countries. The fact is, through friendly consultation and negotiation, China has already completed border demarcation with 12 of its 14 land neighbors, accounting for some 90 percent of the total land boundary," the ambassador says.

Through friendly negotiations, China and Vietnam have also delimited their maritime boundary in the Beibu Gulf. Large numbers of past practices suggest that bilateral negotiation has its unique strength in resolving such complicated and sensitive issues as territorial sovereignty and maritime boundary delimitation, as it would fully reflect the independent will and sovereign equality of the countries concerned, thereby ensuring the negotiated result will enjoy better public acceptance and more effective implementation, writes Tian.

"China always believes that the disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved through negotiation, managed through rules and mechanisms, and eased by joint development," the ambassador says.

Over years, based on these principles, China and ASEAN countries have together upheld peace and stability in the South China Sea, and there has never been any problem of security or freedom of navigation in the region.

Yet a certain country outside the region, in an effort to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific, keeps on playing up the South China Sea issue, excitingly roots for the Philippines and others to scale-up and complicate the situation, and repeatedly deploys warships to the region for the so-called "freedom of navigation operation", gravely escalating the tensions and complexity of the regional environment, the ambassador points out.

"Such manipulative moves to pursue one's own gains at the expense of others' interests and welfare is highly alarming," he notes.

"In our efforts to advance the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China has enjoyed tremendous support from many ASEAN member countries and countries beyond the region. China is willing to join efforts with all parties to make the South China Sea truly a sea of peace, cooperation, and prosperity," the ambassador concludes.

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