China President Xi dismisses Hague arbitration on South China Sea but says 'committed to peace'

Chinese police officers keep watch outside the Philippines embassy in Beijing, on July 12, 2016.
Chinese police officers keep watch outside the Philippines embassy in Beijing, on July 12, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday (July 12) China is dedicated to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea but will not accept any positions or actions based on the outcome of an international tribunal's arbitration on the country's long-running spat with the Philippines. 

Speaking to European Union leaders attending the Asia-Europe summit in Beijing, Mr Xi said the maritime hub and the isles have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

“Our national sovereignty and our maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea will not be affected in any way by the ruling and case brought about by the Philippines,” he was quoted as saying in media reports published after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in Manila's favour.

Premier Li Keqiang, expressing similar comments in separate meetings with EU leaders on Tuesday, said China will strive to resolve the dispute based on international law and also the Declaration on the Code of Parties in the South China Sea it reached with Asean.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking to reporters after the ruling, also used strong words by calling the arbitration case “a political farce made under the pretext of law”.


He also said it “has put the dispute into dangerous territory of worsening tensions and confrontation”.

The foreign ministry had earlier issued two statements in which it dismissed the ruling and reiterated China's sovereignty over the waterway. People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, also vowed to protect the country's maritime interests.

Global Times, a newspaper known for its hardline nationalist stance, called the tribunal's ruling "more shameless" than expected in a hard-hitting editorial.

"All Chinese people are outraged by this illegal verdict and the world’s peace-loving public is astonished by the biased decision that may escalate regional tensions," it wrote.

"The so-called arbitration award is nothing but a piece of paper. But if the US and Japan use it to pile military and political pressure on Beijing, Chinese people will firmly support our government to launch a tit-for-tat counterpunch," it said.


Still, the Chinese government insisted that it wanted a peaceful resolution to the spat, with the foreign ministry saying that China stood ready to "resolve the relevant disputes peacefully" through negotiation and consultation with other claimant-states "on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law".

The ministry had posted on its website the two statements around an hour after the ruling was issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, with one maintaining China's claims over the disputed waters and isles and another one laying out why the arbitration tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case.

In the first statement, the ministry insists China has territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.

It said these are "based on the practice of the Chinese people and the Chinese government in the long course of history and the position consistently upheld by successive Chinese governments, and in accordance with national law and international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)".

The ministry also spelled out specifically its sovereignty over the Pratas islands, Paracels, Macclesfield Bank, and the Spratlys in the South China Sea.

"The above positions are consistent with relevant international law and practice," it added.

The ruling by the arbitral tribunal had concluded there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line'.

It also said none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones and that the Spratly Islands cannot generate maritime zones collectively as a unit.

The ministry also said it is firmly opposed to the invasion and illegal occupation by certain states of some islands and reefs of China's islands, and activities infringing upon China's rights and interests in relevant maritime areas under China's jurisdiction.

It added that China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states under international law in the South China Sea, and "stays ready to work with other coastal states and the international community to ensure the safety of and the unimpeded access to the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea".

In the second statement, the foreign ministry said China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea "shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards".

"China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards," it added.

In a commentary penned by an unnamed commentator, the People's Daily reiterated that China would not accept the ruling, which is its act of safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests and also upholding international law.

It said the former Philippine government under president Benigno Aquino III had acted as a muppet for external forces and for its self-interests in taking the dispute to the international tribunal.

"Be it in the past or in the future, any attempts to challenge China's bottomline would be akin to smashing one's feet with a rock. The Chinese people's determination in protecting territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests is unwavering," it added.

The Xinhua state news agency, in a commentary published after the ruling, also depicted the case and the ruling as a ploy by the West to impede China in its strategic development and rise, and to contain China in its journey towards becoming a major global power.

"Therefore, we must maintain high strategic composure, avoid falling into the trap and lose our footing," it added.