Experts and Scholars from China and Abroad Jointly Discuss Peace and Cooperation in the South China Sea

On September 2, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Institute South China Sea Studies jointly held the 1.5 track virtual international symposium themed “The South China Sea: From the Perspective of Cooperation”. Advice was provided by over 160 participants including former politicians, officials and specialists from China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Russia and other countries within and outside the region on how to safeguard peace and stability and promote win-win cooperation in the South China Sea. The participants are of the view that, against the current background when the international situation is undergoing profound changes and global and regional situations are seeing growing uncertainty, the symposium reflects China’s willingness to have open discussion with regional countries on the South China Sea issues. The symposium clarifies the strategic orientation of China on the South China Sea issue. It also provides all sides a good communication platform, which is conductive for regional countries to removing external disturbances and strengthening the determination to safeguard peace, cooperation and development in the South China Sea.

At the opening ceremony, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, H.E. Surakiart Sathirathai emphasized that the region and countries outside the region should depoliticize South China Sea disputes. He also proposed to advance cooperation, speed up the conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and establish an Eminent Persons and Experts Group to provide proposals on South China Sea cooperation. The Co-founder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Indonesia, Mr. Yusuf Wanandi, emphasized the importance of trust and confidence to peace and development in the South China Sea, and proposed three areas of cooperation, namely, fisheries management, maritime safety, and environmental protection.

Under the panel “the South China Sea Issue: History and Current Situation”, Admiral Joel Garcia, former Commandant of the Philippines Coast Guard and other participants reviewed the origin of the South China Sea issue and analyzed the current situation. The panelists are of the view that, the South China Sea issue is quite complicated, with historical, political and legal factors at play. Through concerted efforts, regional countries have maintained overall stability in the South China Sea. The disputes do not become the obstacle to dialogues and cooperation. However, recently, the United States is bent on interfering in the disputes in the South China Sea. It has frequently taken provocative actions and seeks to drive a wedge between regional countries. It also keeps increasing and intensifying military presence in the South China Sea. The US has become the biggest threat to peace in the South China Sea and a trouble-maker. Regional countries should remove disturbances outside the region, continue to remain self-constraint on the disputes, focus more on areas like marine environmental protection and conservation on living resources and jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Under the panel “Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and UNCLOS”, Dr. Sienho Yee, Member of Institut de Droit International and Professor of China Foreign Affairs University and other panelists pointed out that States are entitled to choose means to settle disputes on their own. The best solution comes from negotiation and consultations by States directly concerned. By referring relevant cases in international law, the panelists explained that the principle of state consent is of vital importance to the ultimate settlement of disputes. The South China Sea Arbitration is in breach of the principle of consent, so it cannot solve any problem. To properly solve the disputes, relevant States need to have constructive negotiations, seeking for an arrangement fit for the region.

Under the panel “The Implementation of DOC and Regional Marine Cooperation”, Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Indonesia and other panelists all agree that the DOC and the ongoing COC negotiation fully reflect the political will of China and ASEAN Member States to safeguard regional peace and stability. We should accelerate COC consultations, and establish upgraded version of regional rules for peace and stability in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, we should continue to expand cooperation areas, to stimulate development potential and promote peace and stability through cooperation. The key to solution lies in the cooperation and development.

The Chair of the Symposium, Mr. Jia Guide, the Director General of the Department of Treaty and Law of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China concluded that, we all want peace and stability in the South China Sea; negotiation and consultation are the viable way to resolve the South China Sea issue; rules-making and mutually beneficial cooperation are the overriding trend. The South China Sea issue is complex. The best solution often comes from negotiation and consultation by countries directly concerned. The panelists have proposed different solutions. But they all underlined cooperation as a way to facilitate dispute settlement. Faced with new situation and challenges, regional countries should remove all external disturbance and conclude the COC as soon as possible. At the same time, regional countries need to step up and find new areas and new forms of cooperation, giving fresh impetus to the development in the South China Sea region.

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