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English>>Foreign Affairs

China must remain firm on disputes, but main task is elsewhere

(Global Times)    10:21, July 02, 2015

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a particularly inspiring set of remarks regarding the South China Sea at the World Peace Forum in Beijing over the weekend. These remarks came at a time when tensions among major claimants in the region are growing as they are gradually driven by external powers.

Quite a number of foreign media outlets have picked up on Wang's comment that Chinese government's position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and will not change; otherwise, it cannot face the ancestors of the Chinese nation. Some of them believed that Wang's connecting the issue with ancestors is not able to justify China's hard-line stance on the issue.

The underlying meaning of Wang's remarks is that China's stance on the South China Sea vis-à-vis its territorial claims and safeguarding its sovereignty has been firm and consistent. Take the Nansha Islands that China has historically administered. There are currently some islands that are occupied by other countries, but it does not mean that these countries have sovereignty over the islands. Wang's words reaffirm such a stance.

China's determination in safeguarding its sovereignty is not because of its rising place in the international community. Rather, its actions are in response to the increasing provocations from other claimants and external powers.

We have observed two trends in the South China Sea over the past few years. The claimants have sped up their actions in the region. For example, the Philippines accelerated its claims by the illegal seizure of the Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea and its appeal to international arbitration over territorial disputes.

The other trend is the active involvement of external powers, especially the US, Japan and India. Each of these countries has its own goals. The US interference in the issue is aimed at countering China and carrying forth its rebalancing strategy, so as to maintain its presence and influence in the Asia-Pacific region. It claims to protect the "freedom of navigation" mainly to maintain its surveillance and military activities in related waters.

Japan wants to kill two birds with one stone by linking its disputes with China in the East China Sea with the South China Sea issue. Meanwhile, Japan needs a "menace" to act as an excuse to lift its ban on collective self-defense and using its forces overseas. India is worried about China's rising maritime power.

The US has obviously facilitated these motives. Its partiality to its allies only adds fuel to the fire, however. In his remarks, Wang mentioned that after WWII, the Chinese government openly reclaimed the Nansha Islands in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, and that China and the US were allies at the time and Chinese troops actually rode in US military vessels on their voyage to Nansha to reclaim China's sovereign territory.

The US is well aware of these facts and should not play dumb. But what it is doing now is denying this part of history in which it was a participant.

In the best-case scenario, when a conflict is about to occur, the parties involved can sit down together and talk through a political solution. But the involvement of external powers has complicated the disputes in the South China Sea. China has asked for bilateral negotiations with the other claimants, but they have refused to talk and instead attempted to seek a balance between great powers.

The complexity of the South China Sea disputes lies in that they have disturbed China's smooth development process. They add more uncertainties to China's peripheries and create tensions among its neighbors or even between China and ASEAN. Sovereignty and territorial integrity are China's core interests. While China remains firm in its claims, it does not need to give too much attention to the disputes as its main task today is still development.

The South China Sea disputes are not expected to be solved in a short term. China can use the coming years to reassure its neighbors of its peaceful intentions and create a favorable environment for its own development.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Ma Xiaochun,Liang Jun)

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