China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint statement on the South China Sea at the 25th China-ASEAN Summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, earlier this month.
It is an important document signed by the two sides on the South China Sea issue, demonstrating China and ASEAN countries' common will and firm resolve to stay committed to rising above external disruptions and safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea. The document also indicates that regional countries have the confidence, wisdom and capacity to handle the South China Sea issue.
The joint statement, at its beginning, recognizes the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.
To build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation is an important goal of China's South China Sea policy, as well as an inherent part of deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and ASEAN.
In November 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations via video link. He proposed that China and ASEAN countries together build a peaceful home, a safe and secure home, a prosperous home, a beautiful home and an amicable home, stressing joint efforts are needed to safeguard stability in the South China Sea and make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.
The incorporation of "a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation" into the joint statement at this time mirrored regional countries' active response to and support for China's South China Sea policy. It proved that China and ASEAN countries have reached a general consensus on what kind of South China Sea they should build.
The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) is the first political document signed by China and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea issue. The document and its implementation ensure the basic stability in the South China Sea and create favorable conditions for regional prosperity and the in-depth development and comprehensive upgrading of China-ASEAN relations.
Facts have proved that the DOC is in line with the reality of the region and reflects the circumstances of the region. It reflects the common ground shared by regional countries on the South China Sea issue. It was proved effective in the past, remains effective today and will continue to be effective in the future.
The joint statement issued this time reaffirms that the DOC is a milestone document in ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, recognizing the imperative of strengthened efforts and heightened goodwill toward the full and effective implementation of the DOC, as the situation in the South China Sea has changed tremendously since the signing of the document.
The joint statement demonstrates that China and ASEAN countries will keep working together to abide by the basic principles and common conduct set by the DOC, to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
The joint statement reaffirms that the parties concerned undertake to resolve territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.
Over the recent years, China and ASEAN countries have raised and implemented the groundbreaking "dual-track" approach — disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation between the parties directly concerned, and China and ASEAN countries should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
The "dual-track" approach fully embodies the spirit and essence of the DOC, and has been proved effective in properly handling the South China Sea issue.
China always stands for resolving the relevant disputes over the South China Sea peacefully through negotiation and consultation with the states directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. It conforms to the spirit of the DOC and is in line with the principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Profound changes unseen in a century are evolving rapidly in the world today, and regional security situations are facing profound changes. Some external countries, to maintain their own hegemony, are sowing discord and sending military aircraft to the South China Sea to show their muscle. It has aroused the concern of regional countries regarding the security and stability in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is not a "hunting ground" for countries outside the region. Still less should it be a "wrestling ground" for major powers. The joint statement issued this time fully indicates that the historical trend of peace and stability in the South China Sea is unstoppable, and so is the trend of regional cooperation and solidarity. External forces playing political tricks and creating tension in the region will in the end gain nothing.
Upon full and effective implementation of the DOC, China and ASEAN countries are accelerating the consultation on the Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea. As long as the parties involved stick to the valuable experience gained in the implementation of the DOC, stay on the right track of properly handling the South China Sea issue and stay wise and patient, they will reach a high-quality COC and build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.