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Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the Press Conference on the White Paper Titled China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea (III)
2016/07/18

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the Press Conference on the White Paper Titled China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea (III)

Shenzhen Satellite TV: Now some people describe the decision of this Arbitral Tribunal as nothing more than a piece of paper. But if some countries do implement this decision, how will China respond?

Liu Zhenmin: In international law, a principle says that illegal behavior does not generate legal effect. So illegal award will not be enforced and has no binding force. Such an award, just like a piece of paper, will not be enforced by anyone.

I believe that countries within and outside the region need to fully understand that the award is just a piece of paper. It is null and void, and has no binding force. If anyone wants to enforce the award, they will be committing new illegal acts. The Chinese government will take necessary measures to stop them. We hope that all countries, in carrying out their activities or asserting their claims in the South China Sea, will go back to where we were before the arbitration.We hope we will resolve the relevant disputes through negotiation, and manage the disputes and share common interest through cooperation. The award will by no means be enforced. Thank you.

CNN: I'm from CNN. Vice Minister Liu, you've been saying that the theme of this white paper is about settling through negotiation the relevant disputes between China and the Philippines. But now the arbitration has already been initiated by the Philippines, and the award has been rendered. China has made clear its position of non-acceptance, non-recognition and non-participation. If the views of the Philippines as one of the parties are supported by the award, would China require the Philippines to also declare its non-acceptance of the award as a precondition for restarting the negotiation? Given China's insistence on sovereignty over Nanhai Zhudao and relevant waters and as the award has supported the Philippines' view that some of the Chinese activities have violated sovereign rights and interests of the Philippines, does it mean matters of sovereignty are off-limit in the negotiation?

Liu Zhenmin: Some questions you mentioned should be on the agenda of the negotiation, while some should be shelved in the negotiation. But the most urgent issue is whether we can come back to negotiation and how we can do that. China's policy now is that we hope the new government of the Philippines can work in the same direction with China, that it can come to realize the award is just a piece of paper and should not be enforced, and that we should put it aside and come back to the negotiating table.

The negotiation between China and the Philippines should be conducted on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. This is a basic principle for negotiations among countries. This is the principle China has followed in bilateral communication with ASEAN countries for many years, so we must not and will not have the negotiation based on the award of the arbitration. You mentioned the theme of our white paper, which is "China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea". What we need is to put aside the award of the arbitration and go back to the track of negotiation.

The award cannot serve as a solution, so it could not be expected to be the basis for any negotiation to settle the disputes. We want our Philippine friends to be aware of that. In fact, many Philippine friends also support China's position. We hope that others will not stir up trouble and encourage or demand that the Philippine government implement the award, for that would not yield good results but escalate tensions and disputes among coastal countries of the South China Sea and countries in Southeast Asia. Thank you.

China Daily: We have noticed that in recent days, some ASEAN countries have explicitly expressed their opposition to the South China Sea arbitration. How does China view the China-ASEAN relationship in the post-arbitration era?

Liu Zhenmin: Let me first say that the disputes in the South China Sea are between China and some ASEAN member states. They are not issues between China and ASEAN as a whole. There are only a handful of claimant states, while ASEAN has ten member states. To be honest, relations and cooperation between China and ASEAN have been affected to a certain degree because of the disputes. But it is Chinese government's policy and hope that our cooperation with ASEAN will not be affected, and this is what we have been working for. Therefore, over the past three years and more, while responding to the arbitration case initiated by the Philippines, we have also been working actively to promote China-ASEAN cooperation.

President Xi Jinping put forward the idea and initiative of building a China-ASEAN community of shared future during his visit to Southeast Asia in 2013. Premier Li Keqiang put forward the 2+7 cooperation framework for China-ASEAN cooperation at the China-ASEAN Summit. This is still being implemented. So China's cooperation with ASEAN has not been greatly affected on the whole, but disturbed somehow. We hold that the South China Sea issue should be handled within the framework of the DOC through joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries. In other words, the disputes should be settled through negotiation between countries directly concerned, and China and ASEAN countries should work together to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

China is ASEAN's largest trading partner and ASEAN is our third largest trading partner. Our cooperation has made rapid progress over the past 25 years, especially in the past decade. This cooperation is mutually beneficial to China and ASEAN countries. I believe China's continued development will help promote the economic development of all ASEAN countries.

We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations this year, and we will hold a summit to commemorate the anniversary in September in Vientiane, capital of the Laos which has taken the rotating presidency of ASEAN. Leaders of China and ASEAN countries will attend the gathering. We hope that we can take this opportunity to upgrade and deepen China-ASEAN cooperation, and that the South China Sea issue will not affect China-ASEAN cooperation. This is why the Chinese government has been saying that we must handle the South China Sea issue in accordance with the DOC and prevent it from undermining China-ASEAN cooperation. We hope that China and ASEAN nations can work in the same direction and make joint efforts toward this goal. Thank you.

China National Radio: Some people say that the award of the Arbitral Tribunal can help different parties to clarify their claims and narrow their differences, and therefore can be used as a basis for diplomatic settlement of the disputes. What is your comment on this?

Liu Zhenmin: We have been emphasizing in the past three years that the Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction, and the award has no binding force, is null and void. How can an award, which is unfair and has no binding force, serve as the basis for narrowing differences? As you can see, this award is purely intended to deny China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and to legitimize the Philippines' claims and behavior. We cannot expect such a radical and one-sided award to help narrow differences and clarify claims. This radical, partial, unfair and unlawful award cannot serve as the basis for narrowing differences.

The basis for narrowing differences should still be respect for historical facts and international law. Hasn't everyone been calling for acting in accordance with international law? Then let us return to international law. And specifically, we need to come back to the negotiating table. Negotiation is a process for and will result in narrowing differences. This is our consistent policy, and we have successfully proven that negotiation is the right way forward. We have resolved land boundary issues with 12 out of 14 neighbors, though China and some of these countries had different claims. We have delimited maritime boundaries with Vietnam in the Beibu Gulf, which is also an example of how we can narrow differences through negotiation. So negotiation should be the only way forward for narrowing differences and clarifying claims, and we must respect historical facts and follow international law in doing so. Thank you.

Phoenix TV: I would like to go back to the issue of the relationship between China and the Philippines. We know that Mr. Duterte has been sworn in as the new president of the Philippines. After that, he has said some positive things about the relations between China and the Philippines. Now the award has been rendered. What is your view on Mr. Duterte's comments on China-Philippines relations? What implications will the award have for China-Philippines relations?

Liu Zhenmin: China and the Philippines are neighbors across the sea. We have over 1,000 years of friendship. The Philippines, though a Catholic country, has much in common with China in traditional culture. We both suffer from natural disasters. For example, the Philippines suffers from typhoons several dozen times every year. Sometimes, after a typhoon hit the Philippines, the next day it would come to China's Taiwan Province and southeastern coast. Therefore, we are in a sense a community of shared destiny in the face of natural disasters.

Starting from 1975 when our two countries established diplomatic relations, no matter who is the president of the Philippines, we have been able to maintain the momentum of stable and friendly relations. So we find it difficult to understand why the administration of President Aquino III decided to initiate the arbitration case to infringe upon China's rights and interests. In fact, he visited China shortly after he took office. So what he did baffled us. Fortunately, the new administration of the Philippines has taken office, which provides opportunities for improving China-Philippines relations.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday, and I also mentioned earlier, that President Duterte and the new administration have made some positive statements and gestures on the South China Sea issue, in particular, the arbitration case. We welcome this. We hope that China and the Philippines can go back to the negotiating table to settle the disputes in the South China Sea and create better conditions to improve our bilateral relations and enhance cooperation.

I hope after the arbitration case is closed, we will embrace new opportunities and we want to see that day come earlier. We will be patient and confident as we wait for the opportunities. I'm sure a cooperative relationship will bring tangible benefits to the people of both countries, and contribute to cooperation between China and ASEAN, peace and stability in Southeast Asia as well as peace, stability and cooperation in the South China Sea. Thank you.

Xinhua News Agency: We know that China already made a declaration of optional exceptions pursuant to UNCLOS back in 2006. But this time the Arbitral Tribunal claims that the optional exceptions declaration China has made should not deprive it of jurisdiction over the case. How would this affect those countries which have made similar declarations?

Liu Zhenmin: Before 1982, in negotiating UNCLOS, our forefathers were very wise to have formulated Article 298 that allows State Parties to make declarations under this article to exclude matters such as maritime delimitation and military activities from compulsory dispute settlement procedures upon their ratification and adoption of UNCLOS. The goal of the Convention is to ensure a stable international maritime order. The international community is unlike a country which has its own legislative, law-enforcement and government institutions, and international law does not recognize international police. International law, including the law of the sea, have to be implemented on the basis of mutual respect and agreements between countries. So the settlement of disputes concerning maritime delimitation must be based on common understanding among countries concerned. So Article 298 of UNCLOS allows State Parties to exclude matters of maritime delimitation, and military and law-enforcement activities from compulsory settlement procedures. The purpose is to ensure a stable international maritime order and the stability of state-to-state relations. This is needed by international law and the reality in today's world.

After the Convention came into effect in 1994, more than 30 countries have issued such declarations including four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Russia, France, China and Britain. The only exception is the United States. Even till this day, the United States has not acceded to UNCLOS. It has stayed outside UNCLOS, and yet at the same time, it has been criticizing others and demanding that State Parties should observe the Convention.

For those 30 plus countries, I'm sure they follow closely the award, because the award not only infringes on China's rights, but also undermines the legal effect of Article 298, and to some extent, the integrity of the Convention and the integrity of the dispute settlement procedures established by UNCLOS. I advise you to read carefully Part XV of the Convention. The dispute settlement procedures form an integral system. The articles and paragraphs must not be viewed separately or individually. The mistake made by the Arbitral Tribunal is that it made the award and claimed its jurisdiction based on one article or paragraph alone. It forgot the procedures form an integral system. So this award not only violates China's rights, but also undermines the rights enjoyed by State Parties in accordance with the mechanisms established under Article 298 of the Convention as well as the integrity of the Convention. I believe countries concerned will properly handle this issue in the future. Thank you.

China Review News of Hong Kong: We have noticed that the mainland has been making every effort to uphold China's sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. At the same time, the Taiwan authorities recently said that it also enjoys entitlements in the South China Sea under international law, law of the sea included, and believes that the award has no legal effect. How would you comment on the statements made by the Taiwan authorities? What can be done by the two sides across the Taiwan Straits in the future to jointly uphold territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea?

Liu Zhenmin: The term "mainland" (dalu) is the term used by Taiwan compatriots. If you are from Hong Kong, the proper term is "hinterland" (neidi). These are unique terms used in different parts of China.

That aside, on your question, I believe that friends from the press have also noticed what you mentioned. Yesterday the Taiwan authorities stated its explicit position. They are against the award, as it violates the rights of the entire Chinese nation. To uphold our sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea is the shared responsibility and obligation of the Chinese people across the Taiwan Straits. We are safeguarding the legacy of our ancestors. The current situation between the mainland and Taiwan is caused by history, and China will be reunited some day in the future. But to safeguard the legacy of our ancestors is our common responsibility and obligation. This is a consensus across the Straits. We also have extensive exchanges in international law between experts across the Straits. I believe both sides will remain committed to the consensus. We hope to make concerted efforts with our Taiwan compatriots to uphold the legacy. Thank you.

Dragon TV: If the Philippines refuses to come back to the negotiating table, what kind of measures will China take?

Liu Zhenmin: State-to-state relations are like a marriage. The two sides must meet each other halfway. If the Philippines refuses to come back to the negotiating table, the bilateral relations will certainly be affected, and the current situation will be difficult to reverse. Three years after the initiation of the arbitration, many leaders of the Philippines, the Philippine government and many friends in the Philippines have come to realize that if we don't go back to the track of negotiation, the bilateral relationship will be affected continuously. Thank you.

China News Service: After the award was rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal, what is China's view on the role of the DOC? Will China stop the consultation on a COC?

Liu Zhenmin: First of all, unfortunately, in its proceedings the Arbitral Tribunal denied the legal effect of the DOC, especially Article 4 of the DOC, which stipulates that sovereign states directly concerned should work through negotiations to settle their disputes. I have read many articles, including papers from the Chinese Society of International Law, which criticize and denounce such acts of the Arbitral Tribunal. The Arbitral Tribunal's denial of the legal effect of both the DOC and the countries' commitment in the DOC goes against international practice and the basic principles upheld by the ICJ, the most authoritative international legal institution, in handling cases. This award has caused concern about the DOC by China and ASEAN countries. Over the past few years, in our communication, we have been very clear that we hope that ASEAN countries will not give up the DOC as a result of the award. ASEAN countries have also been reiterating their position that the DOC remains regional rules for ASEAN countries and China in jointly handling the South China Sea issue. I want to say that the DOC represents regional rules for China and ASEAN countries in handling the South China Sea issue.

In the past five years, I have been working on implementing the DOC and pushing forward consultations on a COC. The consultation process is going forward. Overall, the DOC will not be affected by the award. All ASEAN countries have pledged that the DOC will not be affected. This document was jointly signed by foreign ministers of the 11 countries. Their signatures have effect, and that will not be affected by the award. We will continue to work with ASEAN countries to comprehensively and effectively implement the DOC in its entirety and move forward consultations on a COC and work for early conclusion of a COC on the basis of consensus. Thank you.

Guo Weimin: In Conclusion, let me say a few words. Some are saying that the release of the award will isolate China. I don't see this prospect. Their intention, in fact, will not be realized. The Chinese government and the Foreign Ministry have released information showing that as far as we have learned, the governments of over 70 countries from various continents have voiced their support for the position of the Chinese government. Many friends from the press and think tanks, experts and scholars have also expressed similar views. Some media friends hope to know more about this. If you need, we will provide the related materials in the future.

So much for today's press conference. Thank you, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin. Thank you all.

 
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