China Says No Questioning Its Sovereignty Over South China Sea

Posted September 6th, 2012 at 2:45 pm (UTC+0)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister exchange views on the South China Sea at a news conference in Beijing Sept. 5. Photo: AP/Feng Li, Pool

Clinton Says U.S. Will Stand Up For Strategic Interests

Hillary Clinton visited Beijing this week at the height of Communist Party maneuvering over the formation of a new Chinese government.  Given that timing, she found no room for compromise over competing territorial claims by China and its neighbors over the South China Sea.

“China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters,” Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi told her bluntly. “There is plentiful historical and jurisprudential evidence for that.”

And as for competing claims to the islands and waters by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia Taiwan and others, Yang had this to say:

“As for the dispute over the sovereignty of some islands and reefs of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands and the overlapping rights, interests, and claims over some waters of the South China Sea, these should be discussed by the directly concerned countries on the basis of the fact – of historical fact and international law, and handled and settled through direct negotiations and friendly consultation.”


Bilateral or Multilateral?

In other words, China was going to deal with its neighbors’ claims in one-on-one bilateral negotiations, not the multilateral talks concept being promoted by the United States. Beijing’s approach, said Yang, was fully in keeping with an existing “declaration of conduct” between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

During her talks in Beijing, Clinton pushed back, saying the United States believes a more specific “code of conduct” with ASEAN is a better way to resolve the competing claims between China and its neighbors. She hastened to add that Washington was taking no position on the individual territorial claims, just pressing for a negotiating framework.

“Our interest is in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce,” Clinton said. “As a friend to the countries involved, we do believe it is in everyone’s interest that China and ASEAN engage in a diplomatic process toward the shared goal of a code of conduct.”

China has been critical of outside — read that U.S. — involvement in the rival maritime claims, saying foreign governments are stoking mistrust and enmity between China and its neighbors. To drive that point home, Clinton was welcomed to Beijing with reports in state-run media that many Chinese don’t like her.

“U.S. power is declining and it hasn’t enough economic strength or resources to dominate the Asia-Pacific region,” the official news agency, Xinhua, said in a commentary.

Yang did promise to “eventually” start talks with ASEAN over a code of conduct. But by agreeing to discuss terms for resolving a dispute, China seemed certain it has already won the argument. The move also put Clinton in the position of having to keep the more belligerent of the rival claimants to South China Sea territory — Vietnam and the Philippines — on board with a multi-lateral ASEAN solution.

China’s claims to the South China Sea cause tensions with Vietnam, the Philippines and other ASEAN members.

Timing is important

Again, the timing of Clinton’s visit — in the middle of a leadership transition — may have contributed to the tone of her reception in China. There are also Beijing’s suspicions about the Obama administration’s greater military and economic involvement in the region — the so-called “Asia Pivot.”

So Clinton faced a steady stream of nationalism from officials apparently auditioning for a role in the new government.

“As for the United States policy towards the Asia Pacific region,” Yang told reporters at the Great Hall of the People, “we have always hoped that the United States would size up the situation and make sure that its policy is in conformity with the trends of our current era and the general wish of countries in the region to seek peace, development, and cooperation.”

Despite her rough reception in Beijing, Clinton says there was an important exchange of views ahead of this week’s summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, this month’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and November’s East Asia Summit.

“The United States — certainly I, am not going to shy away from standing up for our strategic interests and expressing clearly where we differ,” Clinton said of the Beijing reception. “The mark of a mature relationship, whether it is between nations or people, is not whether we agree on everything, because that is highly unlikely between nations and people, but whether we can work through the issues that are difficult.”



9 responses to “China Says No Questioning Its Sovereignty Over South China Sea”

  1. Philip A. May IIII says:

    The source of these comments is Henry Kissinger’s “On China” on page 8 “The territorial claim of the Chinese Empire stopped at the Water’s edge. As early as the Song Dynasty (90-1279, China led the world in nautical technology;its fleet could have carried the empire into an era of conquest and exploration. Yet, China acquired no overseas colonies and showed relatively little interest in countries beyond its coast. It developed no rationale for venturing abroad to convert the barbarians to Confusian or Buddist virtues.When the conquering Mongols commandeered the Song fleet and its experienced captains, they mounted two attempted invasions of Japan. Both were turned back by inclement weather”
    Then on page 9 “But in the early years of the Ming Dynasty, between 1405 and 1433, China launched one of history’s most remarkable and mysterious naval enterprises: Admiral Zheng He set out in fleets of technologically unparalleled “treasure ships” to destinations as far as Java, India, the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Hormuz. At the time of Zheng’s voyages, the European age of exploration ha not yet begun. China’s fleet possessed what would have seemed an unbridgeable technological advantage: in the size, sophistication, and number of its vessels, it dwarfed the Spanish Armada (which was still 150 years away).”
    Going forward on the same page, “historians still debate the actual purpose of these missions. Zheng He was a singular figure in the age of exploration: a Chinese Muslim eunuch conscripted into imperial service as a child, he fits no obvious historical precedent. At each stop on his journeys, he formally proclaimed the magnificence of China’s new Emperor, bestowed lavish gifts on the rulers he encountered, and invited them to travel in-person or send envoys to China…….Yet beyond declaring China’s greatness and issuing invitations to portentous ritual, Zheng He displayed no territorial ambition. He brought back only gifts, or “tribute”; he claimed no colonies or resources for China beyond the metaphysical bounty of extending the limits of All Under Heaven. At most he can be said to have created favorable conditions for Chinese merchants, through a kind of early exercise of China’s ‘soft power’ ”
    Next paragraph ” Zheng He’s expeditions stopped abruptly in 1433, coincident with the recurrence of threats along China’s northern land frontier. The next Emperor ordered the fleet dismantled and the records of Zheng He’s voyages destroyed. The expeditions were never repeated…..China’s naval abilities faded- so much so that the Ming rulers’ response to the subsequent menace of piracy off China’s southeast coast coast was to attempt a forced migration of the coastal population ten miles inland. …. China retired voluntarily from the field of naval exploration just as Western interest was beginning to take hold.”
    Considering the focus of this part of China’s history as recounted by Henry Kissinger, it would be difficult for the mainland Chinese to defend their demand of sovereignty over the South China Sea’s myriad of shoals and islets in a court of world law.

  2. […] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for China to resolve its disputes on the South China Sea, VOA details an exchange between Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at a Wednesday news conference:“China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and […]

  3. Tom Patriot says:

    China … soon or later will say where ever Chinese live it’s Chinese territory … It’s clear that China wants to occupy the entire Pacific Sea.

  4. Hugh Nugent says:

    If the American didn’t move their factories to China, It wouln’t be
    grown up as today.China now become too arrogant and stubborn.The West
    should teach them a lesson make them to be humble and get along with its neighbors

    • Chang Zhou says:

      I am Chinese. I can’t agree with you — China’s growth is because of American’s factories? THAT IS NOT THE TRUTH! We don’t need any other countries’ territory,but we never allow our territory to be invaded by any country.

  5. jeremiah recto says:

    The best solution is to adhere on the provisions of international laws and treaties that are agreed and recognized by both nations.

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns is VOA’s State Department correspondent. He has worked as VOA’s Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.



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