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9th Dec 2019

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Real risks to peace and stability in the South China Sea

  • More than 100,000 merchant ships pass through these waters every year and not a single vessel has ever run into any problem with the freedom of navigation. (Photo: European Community)

Recently, despite the continued improvement in the situation in the South China Sea, a major power outside the region has kept making unwarranted accusations against China over the so-called "tensions" in the South China Sea.

Senior EU officials have expressed similar concerns. To help European readers get a full picture of the South China Sea issue, I wish to share with you the other side of the story.

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  • Zhang Ming: "I wish to share with you the other side of the story" (Photo: Chinese Mission to the EU)

As its name suggests, the South China Sea is to the south of the Chinese mainland.

China was the first country to discover, name and develop the South China Sea islands. As early as in the 8th century, shortly after Europe entered the Middle Ages, China started administering the South China Sea.

China has maintained close exchanges with the littoral states of the South China Sea and has enjoyed friendship with peoples of these countries from generation to generation.

Before the 20th century, China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands had never been challenged.

After the end of World War II, China used naval ships provided by the United States and recovered the South China Sea islands illegally occupied by Japan. On the islands, the takeover ceremonies were held and troops started to be stationed. As part of the post-war international order, China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands has been widely recognised by the international community.

However, with the discovery of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, some littoral states have sought to seize islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands, and made claims to maritime entitlements, leading to disputes in the South China Sea. That being said, China has been committed to settling the disputes through negotiation with the countries directly concerned, and focusing on practical maritime cooperation. Such efforts have contributed to the overall peace and stability in the South China Sea as well as development and prosperity of countries in this region.

A more peaceful world

We would deserve a more peaceful world, were it not for the instigation and trouble-making of some forces for their own agenda.

The South China Sea is unfortunately no exception. A major power outside the region has deliberately hyped up the so-called "tensions" in the South China Sea and accused China of "militarising" the region.

The fact is that China has every legitimate right to deploy necessary defence facilities on its own territory.

That major power, with the world's most powerful military forces and hundreds of military bases across the world, has kept staging military exercises in the South China Sea and sent large warships there for the so-called "freedom of navigation" operations, trying to turn the South China Sea into an arena for major-power wrestling. This is THE source of tensions in the South China Sea.

That major power enjoys raising the South China Sea issue. Yet on some multilateral occasions, its representatives would take the exit immediately after finishing what they had to say, giving little heed to the call of the littoral countries for peace and stability in the South China Sea.

It is fair to say that when it comes to the South China Sea issue, that major power cares about things totally different from those of China and ASEAN countries. Its real agenda is to muddy the waters and seek excuses to justify its military presence in the region, in order to uphold its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific and maritime supremacy the world over.

Freedom of navigation

That major power always questions the "freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea, but there is nothing to question at all. More than 60 percent of China's foreign trade and energy supplies pass through the South China Sea, so China has a greater stake in the freedom of navigation than any other country.

The reality is that more than 100,000 merchant ships pass through these waters every year and not a single vessel has ever run into any problem with the freedom of navigation.

When a major power outside the region talk about the freedom of navigation, does it mean to have a license to do whatever it wants in other countries' territorial waters? This might be the real question.

Littoral states share the commitment to maintaining peace and stability and promoting cooperation in the South China Sea.

China would not allow its territorial sovereignty and regional security to be undermined, nor would it allow any major power outside the region to muddy the waters.

It is our hope that countries outside the region could respect the wishes and choices of countries in the region and play a more constructive role.

Any attempt to impose one's own selfish agenda or blindly follow suit from the outside would only pose real risks to peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Author bio

Zhang Ming is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Head of Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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