Beijing to S'pore: Respect China's position on South China Sea issue

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

The Chinese government has asked Singapore to "respect" China's position on the outcome of a recent ruling by an international tribunal and a consensus Beijing said it has reached with Asean.

In a statement on Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hua Chunying said China had made its position on the issue "very clear". "The related ruling is illegal, invalid and has no binding force," she said.

"China hopes that Singapore... can maintain an objective and fair position as the coordinator of China and Asean dialogue relations, so as to advance Sino-Singapore relations and promote healthy and stable China-Asean ties."

Ms Hua was responding to media queries on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks in Washington on Tuesday that the ruling of the tribunal made a "strong statement" about what the international law is in maritime disputes.

One question also quoted Mr Lee as saying as a small country, Singapore hopes all countries can respect the international law and accept the outcome of the tribunal ruling, which was slightly different from what was actually said. The Chinese media had reported his remarks.

At a reception hosted by the United States Chamber of Commerce and US-Asean Business Council, Mr Lee had said: "Ideally, international tribunal rulings set the order for the world because, ideally, when you have disputes between countries, it is much better to have an arbitration and adjudication based on acknowledged principles than to fight it out and see whose guns are more powerful. Speaking from the point of view of a small country, this is all the more (a) fundamental, important principle."

The tribunal had rejected China's historic claims over the South China Sea, in a case brought by the Philippines.

The 10-member Asean put out a joint communique that referred to maritime disputes after a meeting of its foreign ministers in Vientiane, Laos, last month.

The communique did not mention the ruling. But it statedthe ministers reaffirmed their commitment "to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes... in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)". The tribunal was held under the auspices of Unclos.

Ms Hua on Friday said Asean had also clearly stated its position saying that it, as a collective entity, did not hold a position on the tribunal ruling in the recently concluded Asean foreign minister's meeting. The ministers' joint communique, however, did not state explicitly that Asean did not hold a position.

China had similarly protested when countries such as Japan and Australia spoke on the issue in the aftermath of the tribunal ruling. It told Japan to stop interfering in the South China Sea issue after Tokyo said the award of the tribunal was final and legally binding, and all parties should comply.

China's air force yesterday sent bombers and fighter jets on "combat patrols" near contested islands in the South China Sea, in a move a senior colonel said was part of an effort to normalise such drills and respond to security threats, reported Reuters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing to S'pore: Respect China's position on South China Sea issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe