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Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu: Maintaining Peace and Stability in the South China Sea

On May 26, 2015, The West Australian published a signed article titled 'Maintaining Peace and Stability in the South China Sea' by Chinese ambassador MA Zhaoxu. The full text is as follows:

Maintaining Peace and Stability in the South China Sea

There has been a lot of discussions recently about the South China Sea issue, with a great interest in China’s role in that area and its implications.

It is China’s long-standing position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters.

And China has a solid historical and legal basis for that.

The Chinese were the first to discover and develop the islands.

The discovery of the islands by the Chinese people can be traced back to as early as the Han Dynasty between 23 and 220 AD, as documented by ancient books of that time.

The Chinese Government was the first to exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over the islands, which came under Chinese jurisdiction from the Yuan Dynasty between 1271 and 1368 AD. After World War II, China took over the archipelagoes invaded and occupied by Japan during the war, and erected on them marks of sovereignty.

Before the 1970s, no country had ever disputed China’s sovereignty over the islands. However, since the 1970s, some coastal countries have illegally occupied some of China's islands and reefs. This is the crux and root of the South China Sea disputes between China and other countries.

China’s construction work on some of the islands and reefs has recently attracted much media limelight. However, China has every right to do so since it falls entirely within China’s sovereignty and is completely lawful, reasonable and justified.

The construction is carried out mainly for three purposes: improving the living and working conditions of people stationed there; better performing China’s international responsibility and obligation in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, environmental protection; and better providing international public good such as navigation safety, marine science and research, meteorological observation and fishery production.

In short, after the construction, the islands and reefs will be able to provide all-round and comprehensive services to meet various civilian demands besides satisfying the need for necessary defence purposes.

China was not the first or only country to carry out construction on the islands.

Over the years, some countries have carried out large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed islands, building fixed facilities such as airports, harbour basins, helipads, office buildings, barracks, hotels and lighthouses as well as deploying offensive weapons like missiles, artillery guns and cannons.

It is in China’s interest to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, because it is not only a well-known international sea lane, but also an important route for China’s foreign trade and energy import.

Despite the disputes, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea has never been a problem.

China has always maintained that navigation freedom in the South China Sea enjoyed by all countries based on international law should be guaranteed. Guided by this principle, China has actively participated in regional maritime safety co-operation.

Its efforts to uphold sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea have not affected and will not affect freedom of navigation in that part of the sea in any way.

China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the South China Sea is firm.

On the other hand, China believes that disputes should be resolved through negotiation and consultation between parties directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law, and China and ASEAN member states should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

It is encouraging that positive outcomes have been achieved in the consultations between China and ASEAN countries regarding fully implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed in 2002 and formulating a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

China will continue to call on all parties to make concerted efforts for the full implementation of the DOC, careful management of frictions and practical co-operation on the sea, so that the South China Sea could become a sea of peace, co-operation and friendship.

Ma Zhaoxu is the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Australia.

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