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China, Vietnam pledge to resolve South China Sea dispute peacefully

2013-08-16
By Rohit Wadhwaney
Hanoi, Vietnam: Visiting Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, left, shakes hands with Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong as they meet in Hanoi during Wang’s six-day official visit, which focused on bilateral ties. [AFP]

Hanoi, Vietnam: Visiting Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, left, shakes hands with Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong as they meet in Hanoi during Wang’s six-day official visit, which focused on bilateral ties. [AFP]

China and Vietnam reaffirmed their latest stance to resolve all disputes related to the South China Sea peacefully without the use of military or diplomatic force.

The countries released a statement on Aug. 5 in Hanoi as Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi wrapped up his six-day official visit to four Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vietnam Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh told reporters in Hanoi that both countries will deal with all disputes regarding the South China Sea in accordance with the Vietnam-China agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS], and the Declaration on the Conduct [DOC] of Parties in the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam are looking ahead to formulating a Code of Conduct [COC] of Parties in the East Sea. Officials discussed the approach during a meeting of foreign ministers from the ASEAN’s 10-member states in Phnom Penh in July.

Minh said Vietnam “stands ready to work with China to carry out the agreement on the basic principles guiding the resolution of maritime issues.”

Wang noted that for Sino-Vietnamese relations to foster, management of the South China Sea dispute is of crucial importance.

Spratly Islands: Aerial 1995 photograph shows a garrison that the Philippine military had identified as a Vietnamese fortification built in the Sincowe East Island, one of the many islets, shoals and reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands. [AFP]

Spratly Islands: Aerial 1995 photograph shows a garrison that the Philippine military had identified as a Vietnamese fortification built in the Sincowe East Island, one of the many islets, shoals and reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands. [AFP]

“China and Vietnam should step up the implementation of the consensus reached between the leaders of the two parties and the two countries, push forward the proper resolution of the South China Sea issue, seek opportunities from challenges and turn friction into cooperation to avoid interference to the overall bilateral relations,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on its website.

China in ‘no rush’ to sign sea accord

Wang told reporters China is in no hurry to sign the proposed Code of Conduct, which aims to govern the behavior of claimant countries in the South China Sea. He said additional work and discussions need to go into formulating the accord.

“China believes that there should be no rush. Certain countries are hoping that the COC can be agreed on overnight. These countries are having unrealistic expectations,” China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted Wang.

He said that the formulation of the accord concerns the interests of several parties and it “demands a heavy load of coordination work. No individual countries should impose their will on others.”

Talks on formulating the COC in the South China Sea have been met with resistance for years during meetings of the ASEAN member states. Members attending a summit hosted by Cambodia last year unprecedentedly failed to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history.

Discussions on the COC had previously failed mainly because of “disturbances from certain parties,” Wang said. “Instead of making disturbances, parties should make efforts that are conducive to the process so as to create the necessary conditions and atmosphere.”

Four ASEAN nations – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – in addition to China and Taiwan lay claim to the resource-rich South China Sea. China’s claim is the largest –covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer [1.4 million square-mile] sea, an important shipping route and home to natural resources.

China has agreed to host talks with ASEAN senior officials in September to push a detailed COC draft to resolve access to the disputed waters.

China advises restraint

Addressing a high-level forum between China and the ASEAN in Bangkok on Aug. 2, Wang urged countries involved in the South China Sea dispute to practice restraint in dealing with the issue as it could hamper ties.

He said that “insisting on properly handling differences” through peaceful ways is one of Beijing’s top priorities.

“We hope the relevant countries can also uphold this spirit, walk face to face with us and not take any further actions that might complicate matters. And especially not misjudge the situation and remake mistakes,” Wang told China Daily.

China’s three-way proposal to address sea issue

During an Aug. 3 meeting with the chairman of the Asia Peace and Reconciliation Council, Surakiart Sathirathai, Wang proposed a three-way formula to address the dispute.

The problem, perhaps, can be resolved through consultation and negotiation with the “direct parties concerned,” he noted, adding that direct bilateral talks among the concerned parties are the only route to a final solution.

The second option, Wang said, is to continue implementing the DOC while pushing COC consultations in the South China Sea.

The third approach may be to search for common exploration opportunities, the Chinese foreign minister said.

“While a final solution to the sea dispute may take time, concerned parties in the meantime should jointly search for ways of common exploration,” Wang said, adding the move will not only be economically beneficial to the parties involved, but will send the right signal that countries in the region are willing to solve their disputes through cooperation.

Manila ignores proposal

Philippines Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez, in reaction to China’s three-way proposal to resolve the dispute, said: “Can we once again redirect China to the core issue which is its claim of indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea under its 9-dash line position.”

China’s territorial claim in the South China Sea and frequent incursions in what the Philippines deems its own territorial waters prompted Manila to seek international arbitration under UNCLOS.

“The Philippines has asserted before the arbitral tribunal to which China has been invited but has refused to participate that the 9-dash line claim is expansive, excessive and in gross violation of international law, specifically the UNCLOS,” Hernandez said during an Aug. 6 press briefing in Manila.

“This is the core issue and it behooves China to address it.”

What is the greatest impediment to China’s peace deal with its neighbors who share the South China Sea? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

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