MANILA - Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian warned against what he described as "intensified meddling" of the the United States in the South China Sea maritime disputes, accusing the US of turning the territorial and maritime row into a “geopolitical game.”
In an interview with the Manila Times, Huang said China and ASEAN countries have been “working very hard” on managing the South China Sea issue and blasted “US attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries,” citing recently issued statements of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Assistant Secretary David Stilwell of the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
“While China and ASEAN countries working very hard on managing the South China Sea issue, we have to be on high alert that the United States as an external force has also been intensifying its meddling in the South China Sea,” Huang said.
“The recent distorting statements of US Secretary Pompeo and Assistant Secretary Stilwell on the South China Sea are just another proof of US attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries. It seems that the US is determined to translate the South China Sea issue from a pure territory and maritime dispute into a geopolitical game,” Huang said in the interview, a transcript of which was provided by the Chinese Embassy.
Following the fourth anniversary of the arbitral court’s tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, Pompeo announced that the US is now aligning its position on the South China Sea with the 2016 aribitral tribunal’s decision.
Pompeo accused China of trying to build a maritime empire and called out China’s claims “to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea” as “completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
Stillwell followed, saying China is using “coercion, empty promises, disinformation, contempt for rules, bad-faith diplomacy, and other underhanded tactics in the South China Sea,” saying China “is drawing on a playbook that it uses worldwide.”
“This case of peaceful arbitration was brought – with real courage – by the Philippines. And the verdict was unanimous: Beijing’s Nine-Dash line maritime claim has no basis in international law. The tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines on the bulk of its legal claims,” Stilwell was quoted as saying.
Huang stressed China’s position that the Nansha Islands or the Spratlys “have long been part of China’s integral territory,” saying successive Chinese governments have exercised jurisdiction over them “in a continuous, peaceful and effective manner.”
Huang stressed China is committed to resolving disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation.
“China’s position on the South China Sea issue has been consistent and clear-cut. While firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China has always been committed to resolving disputes through negotiation and consultation with countries directly involved, managing differences through rules and mechanisms, and achieving win-win results through mutually beneficial cooperation,” Huang said.
He pointed out that China and ASEAN member states have reached consensus on solving the disputes using a “dual-track approach” where China, the Philippines and other parties concerned peacefully and properly handle the territorial and maritime disputes left “through direct talks on the one track, while China and ASEAN members states jointly maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea on the other track.”
He cited the creation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and current efforts to craft a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, saying there is already “visible progress” with the second reading of the text already started.
“China and ASEAN countries have agreed to conclude the COC at an early date, a goal we are confident and determined to achieve. Once concluded, the COC will provide China and ASEAN countries a rule-based framework in managing the South China Sea issues, which will contribute greatly to trust-building, peace and stability in the region,” he said.
“No external interference can distract or sabotage our efforts. COVID-19 has put the consultations on a break, but China is coordinating closely with ASEAN countries to pick up where we left off as soon as possible. We will also explore new ways of maritime cooperation to safeguard peace and stability and promote development and prosperity in the South China Sea region,” Huang added.
Asked to react to a strongly worded statement issued by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. warning China against letting its military exercises in the Paracels spill over to Philippine territory early this month, Huang reiterated that Xisha Islands (Paracels) are “indisputably China's territory.”
“China's military training in the waters surrounding the Xisha Islands is within China's sovereignty and beyond reproach. It is unreasonable and unnecessary to make inappropriate responses based on hypothetical scenarios. At present, thanks to the joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and witnessing sound development. China is ready to work with all parties to safeguard regional peace and stability,” Huang said.
Huang reiterated that that the maritime disputes between China and the Philippines “are only a drop in the sea” compared to the long history of friendship between the two countries. He said this should be properly handled and managed, saying that the two countries “have been good friends and close relatives for thousand years.”
“Even lovers and friends may have differences, but differences should not prevent them from loving and supporting each other,” Huang said.
“One should not hype up or magnify the disagreements indefinitely, neither allow such disagreements to hijack the overall relations between our two countries. Rather, we should solve differences through constructive dialogue and consultation in constructive manner. If the dispute is too complicated to be solved for short term, we could shelve it and wait till time matures, while we should put our attention on the 99 percent of cooperation,” Huang added.