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Article by Ambassador of China to Iceland Zhang Weidong on South China Sea Issues Published on Icelandic Newspaper
2016-06-03

On 3rd June 2016, Fréttablaðið, the biggest newspaper in Iceland, published Ambassador Zhang Weidong's bylined article entitled Some Questions and Answers on the South China Sea Issue. The full text is as follows:

As I have found that many people in Iceland wish to know what is the South China Sea dispute and why China does not accept the compulsory arbitration, I am very glad to provide with some answers herewith to promote our mutual understandings.

Question A. How comes the dispute?

The South China Sea Islands have been China's territory since ancient times. The Chinese people were the first to discover, name and develop these islands and has exercised jurisdiction over them. It has been widely recognized by the international community that the South China Sea Islands belong to China and no country ever challenged this, as reflected in many maps and encyclopedias published around the world. Before the 1970s, there have been no disputes and the South China Sea was peaceful and stable.

The root cause of the South China Sea issue is the invasion and illegal occupation by certain countries of some islands and reefs of China in the South China Sea, starting from the 1970s for obtaining the natural resources in the region. They dramatically altered their original stance on the issue of the South China Sea and attempted to deny China's sovereignty over the Islands with their maritime jurisdiction claims. Therefore, China is a victim. Nonetheless, in order to uphold regional peace and stability, the Chinese side has all along exercised great restraint and committed itself to resolving the relevant disputes through negotiations and consultations.

Question B. Why is the arbitration illegal?

On January 22, 2013, the Philippines unilaterally initiated an arbitral proceedings against China at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. China has made it clear on various occasions that the Philippines' initiative is against international law. China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, and will never recognize the so-called award.

The arbitration applicability requires at least four preconditions. First, it should only be used to solve disputes over the interpretation and application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The issue of territorial sovereignty is not included, therefore not subject to compulsory arbitration. Second, if a dispute involves maritime delimitation, historic bays or ownership, military operations of law enforcement, a State Party has the right to declare non-acceptance of the compulsory arbitration. Such exception exerts legal effect on other State Parties. Third, if disputing parties choose on their own another way to solve relevant disputes, a compulsory arbitration should not be initiated. Fourth, parties concerned must first fulfill the obligation of exchanging views on the settlement approach. If not, they should not initiate a compulsory arbitration.

It is obvious from the incidents and events that have unfolded in the South China Sea over the years that all disputes are centered on sovereignty and rights over the Islands in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters. So the Philippines, by initiating the arbitration, has violated international law, as its claims concern the territorial sovereignty and unconformable to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Secondly, even assuming some of the claims were concerned with the interpretation and application of the Convention, they would still be an integral part of maritime delimitation, which has been excluded by China through its 2006 Declaration together with other 30 States Parties and consequently is not subject to compulsory arbitration. Thirdly, given that China and the Philippines have agreed to settle their disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation, the Philippines is precluded from initiating arbitration unilaterally. Fourth, the Philippines failed to fulfill the obligation of exchanging views with China on the means of dispute settlement.

Based on the above, unilaterally initiating the arbitration by the Philippines is therefore illegal. The Arbitral Tribunal set up thereof and its handling of the case is willful expansion and abuse of power in nature. The so-called "award " of the arbitration is thus not binding.

Question C. What is China's position on the South China Sea issue?

China's position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and clear-cut. China firmly stand by its sovereignty and rights and interests in the South China Sea, and remain committed to resolving disputes peacefully through consultations and negotiations with countries directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and according to international law. China has even proposed the policy of "shelving the disputes and seeking joint development" and expressed the intention of seeking settlement of disputes with countries concerned when conditions are ripe. China upholds freedom and safety of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea, which is indispensable to all major economies, China included. In fact, there has never been any incident affecting freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea till today. China hopes the countries outside the region can foster favorable conditions and environment for the peaceful settlement of the disputes, not stir up and broaden divisions and create more difficulties.

I hope I have given you an overall picture and wish you will understand and support China's efforts in the peaceful settlement of the issue through negotiations and consultations.

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