How to Bridge the Gap over South China Sea?



The South China Sea is becoming an alarming issue between China and the United States. However, as a matter of fact, China and the U.S. share considerable common ground on this issue. The two countries both support maintaining the peace and stability in the South China Sea, support the parties directly concerned  to settle disputes through peaceful negotiations and consultations, support maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight of all countries in accordance with the international law, support managing and controlling differences through dialogue and support the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as well as the completion of the negotiation on the Code of Conduct in the South China (COC) on the basis of consensus at an early date. To this end, it requires concerted efforts by both sides.


I. Avoid Misunderstanding and Miscalculation.


For China, the South China Sea issue is about territorial and maritime jurisdiction. China seeks nothing but defending its legitimate territorial claim and maritime rights. China does not believe that the concept of sphere of influence is still applicable to today's world and China does not intend to drive anyone out of the region. China respects the America's traditional presence and legitimate interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and seeks cooperation with the U.S., as well as all the regional partners. At the same time, China's legitimate rights and interests must be respected by others.


Maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, and the Asia-Pacific region at large serves the fundamental interests of all parties concerned. South China Sea should not turn into a geopolitical chessboard.


II. Respect and Abide by the International Laws.


Some people call on China to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and agree to the arbitration unilaterally initiate by the Philippines, but these same people deny China's right as a treaty party under the convention. China maintains that the tribunal has no jurisdiction on sovereignty and territorial issues. By neither accept nor participate in the arbitration, China is exercising its legitimate rights under the UNCLOS.


The Freedom of Navigation Operation (FON) is often used as an excuse by the U.S. to flex its muscles in the South China Sea. But in fact, the FON is designed in 1979, right before the negotiation of the UNCLOS concluded, as a counter-measure against the concept of "freedom of navigation" defined by the convention. Over 40 countries around the world, including China, have adopted legislations or issued government statements on innocent passage of foreign military vessels to obtain approval and consent from or give prior notification to coastal states before conducting innocent passage. These practices have become an integral part of the international maritime legal practices. The U.S., by willfully sending warships to territorial seas of other countries, has violated the very international law that it claims to uphold.


III. Refrain from provocative activities.


China is committed to resolving the disputes through peaceful negotiations and consultations. China supports and advocates for the "dual track" approach initiated by ASEAN countries to handle the South China Sea issue. China and ASEAN will work together to maintain peace and stability in the region while disputes are resolved through negotiations and consultations between states concerned. China and the ASEAN member states signed the DOC in 2002, and China is committed to speeding up the consultations in the hope of reaching an early agreement on the COC. China's reclamation and construction works are mainly for civilian purpose and have taken place on the islands and reefs that have long been under China's control. There are limited defense facilities, but they do not represent a "militarization" of the region.


Meanwhile, the U.S. has markedly increased its military presence in the South China Sea, dispatching military vessels and airplanes to make provocations close to China's islands and reefs in the name of FON, and conducting frequent surveillance and reconnaissance operations off the Chinese coast. Such attempt at intimidation by the U.S. is counterproductive, which will be viewed by some countries as a blank check to embolden their own provocative actions, undermining diplomatic efforts and further fuel the tension.


IV. Engage in Constructive Dialogues.


The China-U.S. relations are too important to be hijacked by the South China Sea issue. It is normal that disputes exist between China and the US, yet they could be addressed by redoubling our efforts in a pragmatic and constructive fashion. As long as we observe the principles of mutual respect and equality, shelve differences to seek consensus, and try to resolve them through expanding common ground, we will be able to prevent major disruptions in bilateral relations. China and the US should enhance communication and cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs. The vast Pacific should be a stage for inclusive cooperation, not an arena for competition.



Embassy of the People's Republic of China

Address: 3505, International Place, NW Washington DC, 20008




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