China’s Lieutenant General accuses U.S. of driving tensions in South China Sea and undermining one-China principle

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Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng

4th June 2023 – (Singapore) The Deputy Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng, has accused the United States of driving tensions in the South China Sea and undermining the one-China principle. Jing made these comments in response to false accusations made by U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Jing stated that the U.S. has been meddling in the South China Sea issue and suppressing other countries in the region, which runs counter to the efforts of countries in the region to seek peace, development, and stability. He further noted that the U.S. frequently dispatches advanced warships and planes to the South China Sea, which will only bring more security risks and greater potential for crisis.

Jing emphasized that China has indisputable sovereignty over its South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters. China’s sovereignty, rights, and interests in the South China Sea are in line with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China refuses to accept and recognize the so-called award of the South China Sea arbitration, which is illegal and void.

Jing said that China advocates a peaceful settlement of the South China Sea issue and is committed to resolving disputes through dialogue and consultation with countries directly concerned on the basis of respecting history, facts, and international law. China sees security as common and mutual and believes that realizing its own security also means guaranteeing the security of other countries.

Regarding the Taiwan question, Jing accused the U.S. of hollowing out the one-China principle and enhancing official exchanges with the Taiwan region, as well as conniving “Taiwan independence” separatist activities. He noted that China’s military countermeasures around the Taiwan region are aimed at separatist activities seeking “Taiwan independence” and foreign interference, which are fully justified and beyond reproach.

Jing highlighted three basic facts regarding the Taiwan question. First, there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. Second, the one-China principle is a universal consensus of the international community and abides by the basic norms of international relations. Third, it is the inviolable duty of all Chinese people, including compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.

Jing concluded that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army stands ready at all times to resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea are in line with international law, and China is committed to resolving disputes through peaceful means.

The accusations made by Jing against the U.S. reflect China’s pro-active stance on issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty. China maintains that the U.S. is the real driver of tensions in the South China Sea and that its actions are aimed at suppressing other countries in the region. By emphasising the importance of respecting history, facts, and international law, China is seeking to establish a stable and peaceful regional order based on mutual respect and cooperation.

China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, including its vast untapped oil and natural gas reserves, have been a source of tension with neighboring countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This dispute over territorial claims dates back to the 1970s when countries began to claim islands and various zones in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, which are rich in natural resources and fishing areas.

China maintains that foreign militaries are not allowed to conduct intelligence-gathering activities, such as reconnaissance flights, in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under international law. However, the United States argues that claimant countries, under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), have freedom of navigation through EEZs and are not required to notify claimants of military activities. In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague issued a ruling on a claim brought against China by the Philippines under UNCLOS, ruling in favor of the Philippines on almost every count. China, as a signatory to the treaty that established the tribunal, refuses to accept the court’s authority.

Satellite imagery has shown that China has been reclaiming land in the South China Sea by physically increasing the size of islands or creating new islands altogether. China has constructed ports, military installations, and airstrips, particularly in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, where it has twenty and seven outposts, respectively. Woody Island has been militarised by China, with fighter jets, cruise missiles, and a radar system being deployed there.

To protect its political, security, and economic interests in the region, the United States has challenged China’s assertive territorial claims and land reclamation efforts by conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and bolstering support for Southeast Asian partners. Japan has also sold military ships and equipment to the Philippines and Vietnam to improve their maritime security capacity and to deter Chinese aggression.

Malaysia has also been involved in the dispute, with China expressing concern about Malaysian energy projects in a part of the sea that it also claims. Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has stated in April 2023 that China is worried about activity by the state energy firm Petronas in a part of the South China Sea that Malaysia says is its territory.

The South China Sea continues to be a flashpoint in the region, with competing territorial claims and military build-ups by China and other countries. Efforts to resolve the dispute through peaceful means, such as dialogue and consultation, have been ongoing, but a resolution remains elusive.

Nevertheless, recent claims made by some countries challenging China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands have been met with historical evidence that the international community, including the United States, Japan, and France, had recognised China’s sovereignty over the islands after World War II.

During the war, the U.S. was an ally of China and supported its efforts to regain sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands. In fact, the warship used by the government of the Republic of China to take back the Nansha Islands in 1946 was provided by the U.S. The U.S. also sent survey ships to the South China Sea with the approval of Taiwan authorities in the 1950s and affirmed China’s sovereignty over the islands in authoritative maps and books published at the time.

Japan renounced all right, title, and claim to the Nansha Islands and the Xisha Islands in the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951 and officially recognised China’s sovereignty over the islands in the China-Japan Joint Communiqué in 1972. Japan’s Standard World Atlas of 1952 clearly marked the South China Sea Islands as China’s territory, further proving Japan’s recognition of China’s sovereignty.

France, which had occupied some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands, made no claims to the Nansha Islands in the negotiation process of the Treaty of Peace with Japan and did not think it had any sovereignty over them. French diplomats expressed their positions on several occasions, noting that the Nansha Islands had never been Vietnam’s territory. French publications also marked the islands as China’s territory.

Many other countries, including the U.K., Germany, the Soviet Union, and Romania, marked or recorded the South China Sea Islands as China’s territory in their maps and authoritative encyclopaedias at the time.

The historical evidence shows that China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands was universally recognised by the international community after World War II, and any attempt to deny it is a disregard for historical facts.