Ulaanbaatar — In Mongolia over the weekend, Premier Li Keqiang’s effort to promote China’s stance on the South China Sea issue received broad support during the 11th Asian-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit.
Premier Li said on July 15 before he returned to China that the South China Sea arbitration award will have no impact on China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.
Speaking in an informal meeting during the summit, Premier Li said the South China Sea issue should not be subject to multilateral discussions from the very beginning, or be included in the summit’s agenda.
“But since certain countries commented on the issue, it is thus necessary for China to come out to clarify its stance and spell out the truth,” he said.
Premier Li said China has never participated in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, adding that his country neither accepts nor acknowledges the so-called arbitration award.
“By doing so, we are both exercising our rights in accordance with international law, and safeguarding the dignity of international law,” he said.
“Under no circumstance will the arbitration award exert any impact on China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea,” Premier Li added.
The Premier said China remains committed to settling the South China Sea disputes via dialogue and consultation with countries directly involved on the basis of historical facts and in accordance with international law, so as to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
This is the first time the Chinese premier has made an open statement on the South China Sea issue at an international forum following the South China Sea arbitration award issued on July 12.
Premier Li did not include the issue in his keynote speech at the start of the two-day summit. However, faced with certain nations’ attempts to stir up tension and interfere in the South China Sea issue in the summit, Premier Li expounded China’s stance of non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration proceedings, as part of his diplomatic offensive.
In a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on July 14, Premier Li said the South China Sea issue should be solved through bilateral negotiations between relevant parties in line with historical facts, international law and the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
One day later, he told Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen that China will work with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to protect regional peace and stability as well as the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Premier Li’s toughest remarks were directed at Japan, which, according to a Chinese diplomat that demanded anonymity, had sought in vain to include the arbitration case into the chair’s statement of the summit.
Tokyo, not a state directly involved in the South China Sea issue, should thus stop hyping up and interfering in the South China Sea issue and “exercise caution in its own words and deeds,” Premier Li told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Friday meeting at the latter’s request.
China’s stance on the issue is completely in line with international law and the DOC, Premier Li said.
The Premier’s statements have been keenly received and won the backing from a number of Asian and European heavyweight leaders.
In the meeting with Premier Li, Vietnam’s Nguyen Xuan Phuc said his nation respects China’s stance on the arbitration, adding that the disputes should be solved peacefully through negotiations.
Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said on the same day that Laos supports China’s stance over the South China Sea issue, and stands ready to work with China to maintain peace and stability in the region.
Their words were echoed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said on July 15 that his country supports settlement of the South China Sea disputes through dialogue and consultation between countries directly concerned.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also said Russia opposes the internationalization of the South China Sea disputes or any interference by the forces outside the region.
Russia supports China’s principles on resolving the disputes, Medvedev said. He called for bilateral negotiations and consultations between directly relevant parties to solve the issue.
According to the anonymous Chinese diplomat, a vast number of countries “expressed understanding of China’s stance in difference forms” and “accepted our stance on dispute settlement via dialogue and consultation.”
“On the one hand, more and more countries have come to understand China’s standpoints via extensive exchanges with the Chinese side,” he said.
“On the other hand, the Nice attack had shed light on the importance of peace and stability,” he added, referring to the truck attack in southern France that has claimed over 80 lives.
“We realize that the real threat in front of us is terrorism. There are neither wars nor conflicts in the South China Sea. Only a volatile South China Sea would threaten regional peace and stability,” the diplomat noted. “Our ‘friends circle’ on the South China Sea issue seems to be getting bigger and bigger.”