Interference from the United States has been a source of risk in the South China Sea, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said on Wednesday, calling on countries in the region to jointly reject these risks and safeguard peace and stability.
Luo made the remarks in a speech at the International Symposium on the South China Sea: from the Perspective of Cooperation. Co-hosted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, the event was attended by former politicians, officials and scholars from various countries in the region and beyond including Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos and Britain.
The symposium was held ahead of foreign ministers’ meetings on East Asia cooperation next week and amid U.S. attempts to contain China, Luo noted.
“At this background, I’d like to reiterate that China’s position and commitments on South China Sea remain unchanged,” he said. “We will continue to work with ASEAN countries to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”
The diplomat said China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are “close neighbors that could not move.” The two sides signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea 18 years ago and are speeding up consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea despite impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“China believes in settling the disputes of the South China Sea through negotiation and consultation,” Luo stressed.
Beijing supports handling the South China Sea issue in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said.
Nevertheless, the issue “concerns not just UNCLOS, but also territorial sovereignty,” he told the audience. “Its proper solution is only possible when the international law, including UNCLOS, is applied comprehensively and accurately.”
Luo reiterated that Beijing does not accept or recognize the so-called South China Sea arbitration in 2016.
“UNCLOS does not regulate issues of territorial sovereignty,” he stressed.
“The South China Sea is open and inclusive,” he said. “The freedom of navigation has never been an issue in these waters. It is only an excuse created by those who wanted to interfere and make trouble.”
Luo criticized the U.S. for making “repeated provocations” and increasing military activities in the South China Sea.
“By interfering in the issue, the U.S. is trying to hijack regional countries. It tries to undermine and divide China and ASEAN countries, forcing them to take sides,” he said.
He called on countries in the region to “stay on high alert” against U.S. interference and “focus on cooperation, in stead of conflicts.”