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Speech by H.E. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the session on the South China Sea of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Meeting 2017
2017/03/27

Mr. Chairman,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

I'm delighted to come back to beautiful Boao and join you again in this session on the South China Sea. On behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, I wish to warmly welcome all of you and offer my congratulations on today's session. I also want to thank the National Institute for South China Sea Studies and President Wu Shicun for their thoughtful arrangements.

Over the last 20 plus years since the end of the Cold War, Southeast Asian countries have enjoyed the longest period of peace in the post-World War II era, marked by fast growth and rising living standards.

In the spirit of unity and mutual help, China and ASEAN countries carried out fruitful cooperation in various fields. Last years, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. China has become the largest trading partner of ASEAN, and we look forward to working with ASEAN to embrace the next 25 years of our booming ties.

With the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea has been stable overall and moving in a positive direction.

With the personal attention of state leaders, China and the Philippines reached important consensus on properly handling relevant issues in the South China Sea, bringing about a turnaround in bilateral relations. This January, the two sides agreed to set up a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea issue, and the first meeting will soon be held.

Furthermore, China and ASEAN countries issued the Joint Statement on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) last July and other important documents, reaffirming that the relevant disputes should be settled through negotiation and consultation by countries directly concerned. It sends a strong signal that regional countries will work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

In my visits to Southeast Asian countries since January, I shared my thoughts on promoting cooperation among South China Sea coastal States. ASEAN colleagues showed great interest in and wanted to further explore this idea.

Today, let me focus my remarks on this topic.

The South China Sea is a typical closed or semi-closed sea. Peace and stability there is crucial for the security, development and prosperity of all coastal States and the well-beings of their peoples. It is in the shared interests of all coastal States to promote peace, stability, prosperity and development, which is also our common responsibility.

Now is the right time to launch cooperation among South China Sea coastal States. To quote a Chinese idiom, it is "of the right time, in the right place and with the support of the people.

The coastal States should address the South China Sea issue with an open mind and creative approach, and stay focused on cooperation while properly handling differences. They should carry forward traditional friendship, maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, which is conducive to cooperation, development and prosperity in the whole region.

As I just said, now is the right time to launch cooperation among coastal States. The situation in the South China Sea has been cooling down. With countries returning to the right track of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation, much can be achieved in practical maritime cooperation. As early as 6 years ago, the Chinese government declared the establishment of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund, and has begun to finance relevant cooperation programs.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the important initiative of building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road during his visit to Southeast Asia. Now, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund are ready to support relevant cooperation projects.

As of today, more than 100 countries and international organizations have endorsed China's Belt and Road initiative, and over 40 of them have signed cooperation agreements with China. Chinese companies have invested over 50 billion US dollars in countries along the Maritime Silk Road and implemented a number of major projects, making a positive impact on the economic growth of relevant countries.

China will continue to align its development strategy with those of ASEAN countries, especially the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025(MPAC2025). We will strengthen cooperation on production capacity and implement more cooperation projects in ASEAN countries, to lend new impetus to growth and regional cooperation in East Asia. Countries in the region are welcome to ride in the express train of China's development.

It is the right place to launch cooperation among coastal States in the South China Sea. There is solid international legal ground for setting up such a cooperation framework. Similar cases of cooperation can be found around the world.

According to the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), States bordering an enclosed or semi-enclosed sea should cooperate with each other in the exercise of their rights and in the performance of their duties under UNCLOS. They shall endeavor, directly or through an appropriate regional organization, to coordinate the utilization of the living resources of the sea, and protect and preserve the marine environment.

Moreover, many international organizations, including specialized agencies of the United Nations, have encouraged the coastal States bordering an enclosed or semi-enclosed sea to establish mechanisms of cooperation.

Since the 1950s, the coastal States of many closed or semi-closed seas, such as the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, have established cooperation mechanisms. Some are mature cooperation systems with multiple frameworks and institutions, and some have focused on thematic cooperation such as maritime security, search and rescue, marine environmental protection, fishery management and marine scientific research.

These mechanisms broadened and enriched regional cooperation. They have been helpful in enhancing mutual trust among coastal States and mitigating territorial and jurisdictional disputes. These are valuable experience for cooperation among the South China Sea coastal States.

In fact, the South China Sea coastal States have made some successful attempts in this direction. We carried out some cooperation programs on maritime search and rescue, marine scientific research and environmental protection under the framework of the full and effective implementation of the DOC.

At the non-government level, we conducted a number of cooperation projects concerning people's livelihood through the Workshops on Managing Potential Conflict in the South China Sea. All parties welcome and wish to continue such cooperation.

Advancing cooperation among coastal States is supported by the people. People in our region enjoy a time-honored friendship and formed close cultural bonds. And there is a long tradition of cooperation among coastal States.

Since ancient times, the South China Sea has been a major channel for trade and people-to-people exchanges between China and countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and even Europe and Africa.

As a vital part of the Maritime Silk Road, the South China Sea played an important role in strengthening political relations, trade and friendship between China and foreign countries. It has borne witness to mutual help and common progress of all coastal States.

In the context of profound friendship among coastal States, the disputes in the South China Sea, which surfaced a few decades ago, only account for a small fraction of our relations. I see no reason why we cannot do a better job than our ancestors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The South China Sea coastal States should draw upon the successful experience of other regions, and without prejudice to the parties' respective claims, work together to initiate and establish a relevant cooperation framework, which could serve as an effective platform for enhancing mutual trust, strengthening cooperation and promoting shared interests.

Such a framework can bring the relevant States together in practical and institutionalized cooperation in fields such as disaster prevention and reduction, maritime search and rescue, protection of marine environment and bio-diversity, marine scientific research and navigation safety.

We may also exchange views on relevant maritime issues in a proper way. We are confident that the establishment of such a framework will be conducive to mutual trust and common development among regional countries.

In addition, I want to stress the following two points:

First, such a framework will run in parallel and be complementary to the existing bilateral cooperation mechanisms between China and ASEAN countries and the multilateral consultation mechanism under the framework of the DOC. It will only provide a new platform for relevant technical cooperation.

Second, the purpose of this framework is to enhance practical cooperation and mutual trust, it is not concerned with dispute settlement. Cooperation among the coastal States will not hamper the efforts of sovereign States directly concerned to seek peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes through negotiation and consultation, nor will it prejudice the parties' claim and position on the relevant issue.

I have conveyed the above ideas informally to colleagues from South China Sea coastal States and they have responded positively. We are ready to engage in more communication and coordination with parties concerned. We welcome responses and suggestions from regional countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I recall that this time last year, we unveiled right here the "China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC), which was jointly initiated by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies and the think tanks of Southeast Asian countries.

Now, CSARC is going through domestic registration in China. I believe that its establishment will contribute more wisdom to cooperation in the South China Sea region. I hope that experts and scholars here, especially think tanks from Southeast Asia, will continue to support and take an active part in CSARC operations.

Once again, I wish to welcome all of you to this event, and thank President Wu and his team for providing us with such a good platform for open and candid discussion.

I look forward to your insights and ideas on the setting-up of a cooperation framework among the South China Sea coastal States, and other important topics such as the common development of countries in the South China Sea region and the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

To conclude, I wish this session a complete success.

Thank you.

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