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Special> Diaoyu Islands Dispute> Opinion
UPDATED: September 10, 2012 NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 13, 2012
Defending the Chinese Perspective

What do you think would be the specific methods acceptable to all to implement the principle of "shelving disputes and going in for joint development," a principle that China proposed long ago for settling territorial and maritime disputes with its neighboring countries?

Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came up with this idea in a bid to address the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands as early as 1978. In the 1980s, he applied this principle to the disputes over the Nansha Islands. It was in view of the overall interests of regional peace and development that the Chinese leader proposed the principle which was positively responded to by some countries.

Joint development is a practical provisional and transitional arrangement aimed at managing disputes politically and achieving mutual benefits economically, without prejudice to the claim of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests of the countries in disputes. This principle conforms to the international law, and has been put into practice widely throughout the world. For example, with regard to the overlapping marine jurisdiction of exclusive economic zones and continental shelves between different states, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates in Articles 74 and 83 respectively that "pending agreement, states concerned, in a spirit of understanding and cooperation, shall make every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature." Joint development is just such an important provisional arrangement.

Agreements for joint development of marine oil and gas have been reached between Australia and Indonesia and between Malaysia and Thailand. In 2005, the Chinese, Philippine and Vietnamese oil companies, with the approval of their respective governments, signed tripartite agreement for undertaking joint maritime seismic research in the South China Sea, and they have carried out cooperation in some waters in the South China Sea. China and Viet Nam have established a joint working group on waters of the Beibu Bay estuary. One of the major tasks is to discuss the joint exploitation of Beibu Bay estuary waters. All these are positive steps toward implementing the principle of "going in for joint development."

At present, there are still some difficulties in materializing joint development, but the proposal has strong vitality and is a win-win solution. As long as all countries concerned show sincerity and wisdom, they will be able to come up with ways to realize joint development.

China has maintained communication with other countries involved in the South China Sea disputes. It has put forward several cooperation initiatives, such as marine environmental protection and marine search and rescue. It holds an open attitude toward the drafting of a code of conduct in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries. Do you think that China's efforts have achieved its expected goals? And what should be included in the code of conduct?

China has all along insisted that disputes over the Nansha Islands should be settled through negotiations between countries directly involved in the disputes. It has over the years been engaged in various forms of communication and negotiations with these countries on the disputes.

China and the 10 ASEAN member states signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in November 2002. The DOC is designed to promote regional peace, prosperity and stability, and to create favorable conditions for settling differences and disputes peacefully and permanently between the countries concerned. The declaration stipulates clearly that disputes should be solved peacefully by all concerned countries through friendly consultations and negotiations, that all countries concerned should maintain self-restraint and refrain from adopting actions that might further complicate or expand the conflicts to the detriment of regional peace and stability. In July 2011, China and 10 ASEAN countries reached consensus on the Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC, and formally kicked off the practical cooperation programs under the framework of the DOC.

The DOC stipulates that parties should work toward the eventual adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus. Therefore, the adoption of the code of conduct is part of the efforts to implement the DOC. China is open to starting the discussion on the code of conduct provided that all the parties concerned earnestly comply with the DOC. Recently, some countries have unilaterally taken provocative actions one after another in violation of the DOC, poisoning the atmosphere and undermining the basis for starting the discussions on the code of conduct. As a Chinese saying goes, whoever started the trouble should end it. All the parties concerned should do more to build up mutual trust and promote cooperation, so as to create the necessary conditions for formulating the code of conduct and make the South China Sea truly a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

The U.S. State Department said in early August that the establishment of Sansha City and a military garrison in Sansha City by China was not helpful to a diplomatic solution to the disputes. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed displeasure at and opposition to that. How "severe and wrong signal" could the U.S. statement have sent?

The disputes in the South China Sea should be solved by the countries directly involved in the disputes through bilateral negotiations and consultations. The United States, which is not a party to the disputes, has repeatedly said that it "does not take a position" on the disputes. This is a rational stand and it should be followed through with actions. Recently, however, the United States has made irresponsible comments on these issues. It has turned a blind eye to the provocative actions by certain countries in violation of the DOC. Yet it has criticized China for its legitimate and justifiable response. This is in reality intervention in the disputes or conflicts. Its biased stance could encourage other countries to continue to take provocative actions, causing further damage to the DOC and jeopardizing peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Being major countries in the Asia-Pacific region, China and the United States share many common interests and should try their best to foster positive interactions in the region. China welcomes a constructive role by the United States in promoting regional peace, stability and prosperity. At the same time, China hopes that the United States will fully respect and accommodate major interests and legitimate concerns of Asia-Pacific nations, including China, and will help to safeguard peace and stability in the region.

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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