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Why China Says "No" to the So-called South China Sea Arbitration

On July 12th, an Arbitral Tribunal, put together on a temporary basis, issued a so-called award on the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the former government of the Philippines. Responding to such a move, the Chinese Government and its Foreign Ministry have issued two statements and one White Paper, comprehensively and systematically elaborating China’s position in this regard, solemnly declaring that the award is null and void and has no binding force and affirming China’s staunch position of non-acceptance and non-recognition of the award.

China says “no” to the South China Sea arbitration, because it is merely a unilateral initiation by the Philippines in 2013 without the consent of the Chinese Government. The Philippines’ unilateral initiation of arbitration violates the bilateral agreement reached between China and the Philippines and repeatedly reaffirmed over the years, to resolve relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations, acts against the commitment made by China and ASEAN Member States, including the Philippines, in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) to resolve the relevant disputes through negotiations by states directly concerned, and goes against the general practice that arbitration should be premised on state’s consent. That is why from the very beginning the Chinese government declares that it neither accepts nor participates in that arbitration.

China says “no” to the South China Sea arbitration, because the Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction over it. Although deliberately packaged, the subject-matter of the arbitration is in essence an issue of territorial sovereignty over some islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and constitutes an integral part of maritime delimitation between China and the Philippines. Territorial issues are beyond the scope of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) and does not concern the interpretation or application of UNCLOS. Pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS, China made a declaration in 2006, which excludes disputes concerning maritime delimitation, among others, from arbitration and other compulsory dispute settlement procedures. The Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration was established without legitimacy and has no jurisdiction over the case. The award is clearly out of the Arbitral Tribunal’s acts of self-expansion of power and ultra vires, and has no legal effect, which China will neither accept nor recognize.

China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation is aimed at upholding international rule of law and rules of the region. According to international law, each country has the right to choose the means of dispute settlement of its own will. The UNCLOS gives the State Parties the right to exclude relevant disputes from the application of compulsory dispute settlement procedures. The DOC signed by China and the ten ASEAN countries manifestly stipulates that relevant disputes should be resolved by countries directly concerned through dialogue and negotiation. China’s non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration is solidly based on international law, and is consistent with the norms and rules of the international law of the sea. China is acting in strict accordance with the law.

China will remain committed to peaceful settlement of disputes through consultation and negotiation, and will continue to work for peace and stability in this region. Regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China. The Chinese government will continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, including the principles of respecting state sovereignty and territorial integrity and peaceful settlement of disputes, and continue to work with states directly concerned to resolve the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law, so as to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

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