UN Security Council not ‘suitable place’ to discuss South China Sea issue: China

Beijing, Aug 11 (PTI) Faced with scathing criticism from the US of its expansive claims over the disputed South China Sea at a UN Security Council meeting presided over by India this week, China said on Wednesday that the high-power body of the United Nations is not a “suitable place” to discuss the contentious issue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had chaired the high-level open debate on maritime security attended virtually by Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chef de Cabinet of the UN Secretary-General Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh.

The US and China had clashed at the meeting of the UNSC where a presidential statement on maritime security that recognised the importance of enhancing international and regional cooperation to counter threats to maritime safety and security was unanimously adopted on Monday. China, a member of the permanent five of the UNSC, backed the resolution.

“The Security Council is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea issue, the Chinese Foreign Ministry here said in its first reaction to the high-level UNSC meeting on maritime security.

The meeting underlined the primacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities at sea, sending a strong message to China.

This is highly significant since it marks the first ever outcome document by the UNSC on the issue of maritime security. Also for the first time in the Presidential Statement there are references to UNCLOS, a convention over which China has had long-standing reservations and objections.

In 2016, an international tribunal ruled against China’s claims to rights in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing dismissed the ruling that favoured the Philippines and said it would not be bound by it.

The open debate on Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation’ was one of the three signature events being hosted by India during its month-long Presidency of the powerful 15-nation UN body.

“On August 9, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an open meeting on maritime security at the initiative of India, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for this month, and formally adopted a previously agreed presidential statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in response to a query from PTI here.

“Members of the Security Council generally stressed that maritime security issues cannot be ignored and supported strengthening international and regional cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crimes, the Ministry said in a written response.

China attaches great importance to maritime security, advocates a common maritime security concept featuring mutually beneficial cooperation and win-win results and is committed to building a maritime security architecture featuring equality, mutual trust, fairness, justice, joint contribution and shared benefits, it said.

At the same time, it took exception to Blinken’s sharp criticism of China’s claims of the South China Sea and “provocative actions” to advance unlawful maritime claims.

“In response to the US representative’s remarks on the South China Sea issue in his speech, the Chinese representative expressed firm opposition on the spot.” At the meeting, the Chinese representative vigorously refuted the “unreasonable accusations” made by the US, the ministry said.

“In the South China Sea, we have seen dangerous encounters between vessels at sea and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims,” Blinken had said, in a veiled attack on China which claims almost all of the 1.3 million square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory.

China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

While China’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dai Bing in his address hit out at the US, often criticised by Beijing as an outside power, saying Washington is not qualified to speak on the SCS issue, Blinken asserted that it is the responsibility of all countries to follow agreed rules to peacefully settle maritime disputes.

“The US has made clear its concerns regarding actions that intimidate and bully other states from lawfully accessing their maritime resources. And we and other countries including South China Sea claimants have protested such behaviour and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Blinken said.

“Some may assert that resolving the dispute in the South China Sea is not the business of the United States or any other country that is not a claimant to the islands and waters. But it is the business, and even more, the responsibility of every Member State to defend the rules that we’ve all agreed to follow and peacefully resolve maritime disputes, Blinken said.

“Conflict in the South China Sea or in any ocean would have serious global consequences for security and for commerce. What’s more, when a State faces no consequences for ignoring these rules, it fuels greater impunity and instability everywhere, he said.

In his response, Dai said, the United States just mentioned the South China Sea issue, and China firmly opposes this act. At present, with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea remains generally stable. All countries enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law.

The SCS is increasingly becoming a theatre of potential conflict as the US carried out naval and air missions over the area to assert freedom of navigation.

The Chinese naval vessels and air force planes often closely tail them to assert China’s sovereignty over the area.

Last Friday, China launched a five-day naval drill in the SCS, setting up a vast navigation restriction zone amid the all-domain military exercise being conducted by the US in the Indo-Pacific region along with Britain, Australia and Japan, the first of its kind in more than four decades.

Also, the Indian Navy is deploying a naval task group comprising four frontline warships to the SCS, Western Pacific and South East Asia for over two months beginning early August, in a significant move aimed at enhancing its profile in the strategically key sea lanes.

Dai said the US has been stirring up trouble out of nothing, arbitrarily sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations and publicly trying to drive a wedge into regional countries, especially countries concerned .

The US’s hype in the Security Council is entirely politically motivated. The South China Sea arbitrary tribunal violated the principle of state consent and tried ultra vires, he said.

An international tribunal on the SCS in 2016 struck a big blow to China’s claims over most of the SCS saying that its much-touted nine-dash line has no legal basis.

The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line’, said the five-judge tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague adjudicating on the petition filed by the Philippines.

China had dismissed the verdict as a piece of waste paper and brushed aside the US backing for the judgement as a political farce to smear Beijing.