China will not accept any actions based on the decision yesterday (12 July) by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal, according to its president, and premier. They made the remarks while meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Beijing.
Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of the ruling in The Hague, which coincided with the first day of the EU-China summit. China has refused to participate in the court case. Beijing says the court has no jurisdiction and China cannot be forced to accept its resolutions.
Beijing has insisted that the EU should refrain from taking any action that constitutes interference in the South China Sea issue.
The EU, however, says it is an “interested” party in a dispute pitting China against Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia over control of a crucial seaway, as it is committed to a maritime order based on the principles of international law. The EU opposes any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion, force or any unilateral action.
Tusk referred to the South China Sea dispute between Beijing and Manila ahead of the decision from the Hague-based tribunal, saying “the rule-based international order is in our common interest, and both China and the EU have to protect it, as this is in our people’s best interests”.
Quoted by Xinhua, President Xi Jinping said the South China Sea Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea, in any circumstances, will not be affected by the Hague court decision, he said.
China has always been a guardian of the international rule of law and of fairness and justice, and will always adhere to the path of peaceful development, Xi said.
China is firmly committed to peace and stability in the South China Sea, and to settling the disputes with countries directly involved, through peaceful negotiations based on the recognition of historical facts and in accordance with international law, Xi added.
Premier Li Keqiang also said on Tuesday that by not accepting nor recognizing the court decision, China is, in fact, safeguarding international law.
Li’s statement came as he co-chaired the 18th China-EU Summit with Tusk and Juncker at the Great Hall of the People.
As a country directly concerned, China cares most and is committed to the peace and stability of the South China Sea region, Li said.
China will also be committed to peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiations and consultations in line with the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and international law, Li stated.
Beijing claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Manila lodged its suit against Beijing in 2013, challenging China’s claims to much of the waterway and saying it was in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both countries are signatories. The Philippines asked the tribunal to rule on the status of the nine-dash line, a boundary that is the basis for its claim to roughly 85% of the South China Sea.
Agreeing with the Philippines on a number of issues, the court said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers almost 90% of the South China Sea.
None of China’s reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, it added.
The ruling also said China had caused permanent harm to the coral reef ecosystem in the Spratlys, charges China has always rejected.
The ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute, which covers some of the world’s most promising oil and gas fields and vital fishing grounds.
The legal opinion reflects the shifting balance of power in the 3.5 million square kilometre sea, where China has been expanding its presence by building artificial islands and dispatching patrol boats that keep Philippine fishing vessels away.
The United States and China often conduct military exercises in the area and regularly accuse each other of militarising the region.
China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. The case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, hinged on the legal status of reefs, rocks and artificial islands in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Island group.
The court has no power of enforcement, but a victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to file similar cases.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to resolve the disputes in a “peaceful and amicable manner through dialogue and in conformity with international law”.
The judges acknowledged China’s refusal to participate, but said they sought to take account of China’s position from its statements and diplomatic correspondence.
Taiwan, which maintains that the island it occupies, Itu Aba, is legally the only island among hundreds of reefs, shoals and atolls scattered across the seas, said it did not accept the ruling, which seriously impaired Taiwan’s territorial rights in the 3.5 million square kilometre sea.
Fellow claimant Malaysia said it believed disputes could be resolved by diplomatic and legal processes.
A US official who helps set the administration’s Asia policies said that faced with the prospect of continuing Chinese assertiveness, it is important for countries in the region and for the United States to avoid provocative actions and leave the door open for Beijing to pursue peaceful solutions “and avoid making matters worse.”
He also said, however, that the United States must honor its defense commitments in the Pacific and reassure the Philippines, Vietnam and China’s other neighbors that it would not abandon them or Obama’s pledge to devote more resources to Asian security.
The South China Sea is not on the agenda and should not be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Monday.
The Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, will be the first important multilateral diplomatic gathering after the 12 July ruling by an arbitration court hearing a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.
China hopes EU will say strong after Brexit
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told EU leaders that Beijing hoped for a “powerful” European Union and he had faith it would develop despite Britain’s vote to leave.
“China firmly supports the process of EU integration and believes that the EU’s development will not stop, and furthermore is willing to see a stable, flourishing, and powerful EU,” Li said during a summit of Chinese and European leaders.
“This suits EU-China cooperation, and also suits China’s interests,” Li said.
European leaders have sought to allay Chinese fears that Britain’s withdrawal, known as “Brexit”, would harm economic ties between China and the EU and cause economic instability.
Li said last month that Brexit had increased uncertainty in the global economy and China wanted to see a united and stable EU.
Relations between Britain and China have been warming over the past few years and economic links have multiplied, in what both countries refer to as a “golden age” in ties promoted by President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron, who campaigned to remain in the EU, announced his resignation after the referendum.
Donald Tusk stressed the importance of adhering to international rules when it comes to trade.
The EU has criticised China for adopting what it sees as unfair policies to protect its companies while denying market access and equal treatment to European companies. China denies that.
Tusk also pointed to “differences of opinion” between China and the EU on human rights and the rule of law.
“I stress the importance for the European Union of the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including for minorities,” he said.
China says human rights are its domestic affair and other countries should refrain from offering opinions on the matter.
Tusk: Respect international rules
On Tuesday, Tusk cautioned China to respect the international system, as the world’s second-largest economy finds itself locked in disagreements over maritime law and global trade practices.
The EU is in the process of considering whether or not to grant China market economy status, a designation that would make it much harder for major economies to fight Beijing over alleged unfair trading practices.
EU members have roundly criticised Beijing for its trade practices, claiming the Asian giant is flooding global markets with cheap products, driving down prices and threatening economic stability.
Speaking in Beijing at the start of the EU-China summit, Tusk called on the Asian giant to protect the “rule-based international order”, saying the task “may be the biggest challenge ahead of us.”
The global framework of laws and regulations “brings so many benefits to our nations,” Tusk said, adding: “If many start believing that globalisation and international trade are happening without or against common rules, then the first victims will be Chinese and European economies, not to mention people.”