MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines "should not make trouble" over Scarborough Shoal and instead "face facts," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said.
Yang said at the sidelines of the 19th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Foreign Ministers' Meeting Thursday that the atoll, which Beijing calls Huangyan, "has always been part of the Chinese territory and is not a disputed island."
He claimed that the Philippines triggered the tension when Manila sent a naval vessel last April "to hurt the Chinese fishermen on China's territory"
"What they did caused wide concern and strong indignation among the Chinese people," Yang said. "China urges the Philippine side to face facts squarely and not to make trouble."
He also insisted that China's sovereignty over the entire Spratlys and their adjacent waters "is supported by ample historical and legal evidence."
"Yet given the complexity of the South China Sea issue, China has always called for shelving disputes and seeking joint development," he said.
"China and ASEAN countries had candid discussions and reached broad consensus on the South China Sea issue 20 years ago and signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Phnom Penh ten years ago. An important principle of the DOC is to let sovereign states directly concerned resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly consultations and negotiations," Yang added.
"Parties agreed to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual formulation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea (COC). China is open to launching discussions on COC on the basis of full compliance with the DOC by all parties," he said. "What is essential is that all parties exercise self-restraint in keeping with the spirit of the DOC, and refrain from taking moves that will escalate and complicate the disputes and affect peace and stability."
"China hopes that all parties will do more to enhance mutual trust, promote cooperation, and create necessary conditions for the formulation of COC."
Cambodia backs China
The Philippines raised the issue over tensions at Scarborough Shoal before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Cambodia this week.
However, China -- through its ally Cambodia - blocked mention of the dispute in a proposed joint statement at the end of the summit.
For the first time in 45 years, ASEAN ministers failed to issue a joint diplomatic communique because of China's lobbying.
Yang met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday and thanked him for his government's "long-standing, firm support on issues that concern China's core interests."
The Cambodian leader, meanwhile, said he "appreciates the valuable support and help of the Chinese government and people for Cambodia's economic and social development."
Philippines blames Cambodia
According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, current ASEAN chair Cambodia said a joint communique by the 10-member regional bloc "cannot be issued" after the summit's host-nation prevented all efforts to include the Scarborough Shoal dispute in the proposed diplomatic statement.
Beijing wants the Scarborough and Spratlys disputes to be discussed in one-on-one talks with other countries, and not through a multilateral forum such as the ASEAN.
While China has refused to let the disputes be settled through international law, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Yang said his country "is a party to the [UNCLOS] and places importance on upholding the principles and purposes of the Convention."
"The Convention states at the very outset the desirability of 'establishing, with due regard for the sovereignty of all States, a legal order for the seas and oceans,'" he said. "This means that the Convention has not given itself the authority to change the territory of countries and that it cannot be cited as the basis for arbitration in territorial disputes between countries."
"Countries concerned should first resolve their territorial disputes over the Nansha Islands and, on that basis, proceed to resolve the issue of maritime delimitation in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, the UNCLOS included," he added.
Yang, meanwhile, remained coy on when his government will launch discussions on the Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea (COC) with ASEAN countries.
"Substantive discussions can be launched when conditions are ripe. At present, parties concerned should fully and effectively implement the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties) and carry out practical cooperation under this framework," he said.