Beijing: South China Sea not ‘fighting arena’ for great power games

Liu Zhen, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jul 26 2022 05:15 AM | Updated as of Jul 26 2022 06:34 AM

Remarks come as military tensions with US, allies grow over naval exercises

This US Navy photo obtained October 7, 2019 shows the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)(L), and the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 6) and ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group underway in formation while conducting security and stability operations in the US 7th Fleet area of operations on October 6, 2019 in the South China Sea. Erwin Jacob V. Miciano, Navy Office of Information via AFP/File
This US Navy photo obtained October 7, 2019 shows the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)(L), and the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 6) and ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group underway in formation while conducting security and stability operations in the US 7th Fleet area of operations on October 6, 2019 in the South China Sea. Erwin Jacob V. Miciano, Navy Office of Information via AFP/File

Beijing has said the South China Sea is not a “fighting arena” for great power games and called on Southeast Asian countries to jointly resist the involvement of external powers in disputes.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday said issues in the South China Sea must be handled properly by countries in the region, which must not be a “hunting ground” for outside nations.

He made the comments during a video conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a guideline for China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on handling South China Sea disputes.

Wang accused “some certain external powers” of “deliberately expanding conflicts and provoking tensions, jeopardising the legitimate rights and interests of coastal countries and the normal order of the sea”.

Beijing has said the South China Sea is not a “fighting arena” for great power games and called on Southeast Asian countries to jointly resist the involvement of external powers in disputes.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday said issues in the South China Sea must be handled properly by countries in the region, which must not be a “hunting ground” for outside nations.

He made the comments during a video conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a guideline for China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on handling South China Sea disputes.

Wang accused “some certain external powers” of “deliberately expanding conflicts and provoking tensions, jeopardising the legitimate rights and interests of coastal countries and the normal order of the sea”.

“To that, China and Asean countries should make our positions clear: if you come for peace and cooperation, we welcome you; if you come for disruption and destruction, please leave!” Wang said.

Wang’s remarks came as military tensions in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, continued to grow between China and the US and its allies.

Beijing has claimed most of the waters, while Taipei and Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all have overlapping claims. Mainland China has significantly strengthened its control of the region over the last two decades despite an international court’s ruling against it.

The US considers the South China Sea critical to its Indo-Pacific strategy and has been conducting regular “freedom of navigation” operations and increasing naval exercises in the area – sometimes with allies from outside the region, including Japan, Australia and Nato.

Earlier this month, a US naval destroyer sailed near Chinese-controlled South China Sea islands three times in one week to challenge China’s claims.

Beijing has long insisted disputes should be solved between regional claimants and that external powers must stay out of South China Sea issues.

Wang praised the DOC for representing the values of “East Asian culture”, such as an emphasis on consensus and accommodating the comfort of all parties. The “bottom line of peace” must be defended, and “any words or actions that create tension and provoke confrontation in the region” must be strongly opposed, he said.

The DOC, signed in Cambodia in November 2002, calls on all parties to peacefully handle South China Sea disputes “with restraint” through dialogue and consultation in accordance with international law. But the document has not resolved any territorial disputes.

As a follow-up step, China and Asean have been discussing a legally binding code of conduct to implement the DOC’s principles. They drafted a negotiating text in 2018 and finished a first review in 2019. However, consultations have made little progress since then and failed to meet a proposed finalisation deadline at the end of 2021.

In his speech, Wang called for a speeding up of negotiations to provide stronger institutional safeguards for managing differences and promoting cooperation.

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