Intensifying tension not conducive to solving South China Sea dispute

08:55, June 16, 2011      

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In recent days, Vietnam has groundlessly accused Chinese ocean surveillance ships of violating its "sovereignty" by disrupting oil and gas exploration in its waters.

According to foreign reports, Vietnam held a live-fire naval drill around the island of Hon Ong within its self-claimed exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea on the night of June 13. Such actions only intensify contradictions, highlight disputes and are not conducive to the settlement of the issue of the South China Sea.

Since the long-running South China Sea dispute cannot be solved overnight, all parties involved should handle the dispute through dialogue and consultation with a sincere and patient attitude. China has shown great sincerity and patience in its efforts to resolve the dispute. China has always held this stance. Hong Lei, the spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and is willing to cooperate with relevant countries in turning the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

Taking the general situation into consideration, China’s stand on the issue is open and honest. As the first country to discover and develop the islands in the South China Sea, China has indisputable sovereignty over these islands and the surrounding waters. The Chinese people conducted seafaring, commercial, and fishing activities in the South China Sea as early as the Qin and Han dynasties. The islands in the sea were incorporated into China's territory in the Tang Dynasty; the Ming Dynasty also put South China Sea under its jurisdiction when officials were dispatched there for inspection.

The Chinese government lodged stern representation when the Japanese and French conducted economic development activities in the South China Sea without permission in the 1920s and 1930s. Japanese troops occupied the islands in the South China Sea during the Second World War. After the Japanese surrendered, China reclaimed its sovereignty over the islands and placed the South China Sea under the jurisdiction of Guangdong province. At the time, none of the surrounding countries raised objections to China's sovereign jurisdiction over the sea. In a territorial waters statement in 1958, the Chinese government announced that the South China Sea is part of Chinese territory, and Pham Van Dong, the Vietnamese prime minister at the time, expressed agreement.

The situation in the South China Sea was very calm and related countries all acknowledged China's sovereignty over the South China Sea until a U.N. energy department released a report on the vast oil reserves in the South China Sea in 1968. Upon the release of report, countries near the South China Sea successively claimed sovereignty over the islands before moving to occupy some of them, leading to their territorial disputes with China. It is evident that the root cause behind the disputes in the South China Sea lies in that some countries covet the oil resources there.

Despite the facts, China still adhered to the principles of preserving peace and friendship and taking into account the overall picture. China proposed to "secure its sovereignty, suspend disputes and jointly develop resources," in a hope to settle the South China Sea disputes with related countries through peaceful consultations and joint exploration. China and related countries signed the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" on Nov. 4, 2002, in which they declared, "Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes, the Parties concerned may explore or undertake cooperative activities." Thereafter, China has stressed again that it is committed to making the South China Sea "a sea of peace" and "a sea of cooperation."

As a major power among the parties involved in the South China Sea disputes, China has adopted an attitude of forbearance and made the aforementioned propositions instead of resorting to military force or threatening military actions because China seeks to not only build a sound neighboring environment for its reform and opening-up and socialist modernization drive but also preserve the peace, stability and development of the entire East Asia region.

Thanks to the efforts of China and related parties, China signed an agreement with the Philippines in November 2004 on joint oil and natural gas exploration in the disputed areas. Three oil companies from China, the Philippines and Vietnam signed the "Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea" in Manila in March 2005. The agreements are not only effective practice of China's propositions of "suspending disputes and jointly developing resources," but also major moves to implement the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" made by China and ASEAN member countries.

Under the atmosphere of communication and consultation on the South China Sea dispute, China and ASEAN member countries including Vietnam and the Philippines signed framework documents on bilateral relations towards the 21st Century from 1999 to 2000. China officially joined the ASEAN’s political treaty, "Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia" in October 2003 as a large country outside the Southeast Asia Region. Meanwhile, the two sides also announced the establishment of a strategic partnership.

The establishment of this strategic partnership shows that China is willing to be the good neighbor and good partner to ASEAN and seek common development towards the future and also indicates that the South China Sea has become a dispute between strategic partners. Such a dispute must be solved peacefully by both sides through friendly consultations and China is firmly opposed to countries that have nothing to do with the South China Sea intervening in the dispute and causing it to be an international, multilateral and expanded issue.

History has proven that rendering the dispute, intensifying tensions, and even internationalizing the dispute will only make things go from bad to worse. Therefore, related countries should stop unilateral actions that would lead to the expansion and complication of the dispute, and should no longer make irresponsible remarks that disaccord with the facts. Only through direct consultations with sincerity and patience, will China and other related countries find a way to properly resolve the dispute and create a "sea of peace, a sea of friendship, and a sea of cooperation."

By Zhou Feng. The article, translated by People's Daily Online, was originally carried on page 4 of Tuesday's PLA Daily.

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