US warned against 'challenging international order' in South China Sea

The USS Curtis Wilbur, which sailed in waters close to disputed islands in the archipelago claimed by Beijing.
The USS Curtis Wilbur, which sailed in waters close to disputed islands in the archipelago claimed by Beijing.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BEIJING - The US deployment of a navy vessel to the South China Sea in waters close to disputed islands in the archipelago claimed by Beijing has been viewed as being "intrusive" in a commentary by the state-run Xinhua news agency. It has accused Washington of "threatening the sovereignty of other countries and challenging the international order" by sending a navy vessel "without China's authorisation".

A US Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Curtis Wilbur, on Saturday (Jan 30) sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Zhongjian Dao in the Xisha Islands, which, according to the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's office, was "innocent passage" and "consistent with international law".

However, Xinhua pointed out that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), "innocent passage has its conditions - it should not be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State". It went on to say that the UN law also stipulates that "foreign ships exercising the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea shall comply with related laws and regulations the coastal State may adopt".

According to China's law on the territorial sea and contiguous zone enacted in 1992, foreign warships entering China's territorial waters should obtain prior approval from the Chinese government, said Xinhua.

"Obviously, the US warship's incursion into China's territorial sea without authorisation violated both Chinese and international law," Xinhua stated. "And this was not the first instance of the US infringement on international law. Just 95 days ago, the US Navy sailed the USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of the Zhubi Reef, part of China's Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. The US repeated moves have not only threatened China's sovereignty and security interests, but also undermined regional peace and stability."

Ironically, Xinhua said that Washington has unreasonably pointed its fingers at China, accusing Beijing of posing a threat to the "freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea and taking measures of "challenging the international order".

The editorial went on to say that Washington's unfounded accusation "obviously goes against common sense as the international order should not be unilaterally defined by any single country".

The article pointed out that the current international order was jointly established by the international community with the United Nations at its core, on the basis of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. The fundamental principle regarding the international order is based on mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, equal treatment and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

It cited UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon as saying that China has long played an active role in and made remarkable contribution to promoting world peace and development and resolving international and regional issues. Under relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, Xinhua said China launched the task of carrying out anti-piracy escort missions in the Gulf of Aden off the waters of Somalia in late 2008. It pointed out that China has also escorted the shipping of chemical weapons out of Syria for destruction and helped many countries deal with natural disasters. Xinhua went on to state that the Chinese navy's pragmatic exchanges and co-operation with other countries have ensured the safety of some strategic maritime passages in the world. China, said Xinhua, as a signatory to the UNCLOS, has been committed to preserving the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and to safeguarding peace and stability in the region.

As most of the region's flow of commerce in foreign trade passes through the sea lanes in the South China Sea, it is in the fundamental interest of all coastal countries, including China, to preserve the freedom of navigation in the area, the news agency reiterated in its commentary.

In order to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and co-operation, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been endeavoring to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and striving for the signing of a full code of conduct in the waters as soon as possible, according to Xinhua. It noted that regional countries, including the Asia-Pacific will benefit from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy promoting openness, inclusiveness and win-win results.

Xinhua said: "Facts have proved that China, instead of doing any harm to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, has provided public services to ensure the safety of all vessels sailing in the waters. At a time when the whole world is pursuing peace, development, cooperation and win-win results, China will firmly stick to its path of peaceful development, which serves its fundamental interests and meets the common aspiration of all countries and people in the region."

China's state-run news agency called on the US to play its part in promoting peace.

"It is advisable for Washington to contribute more to regional peace and co-operation, rather than making waves in the South China Sea and then pointing a finger at others on trumped-up charges," urged Xinhua in conclusion.