Whether the South China Sea issue would feature prominently on the agenda of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Hanoi became a major concern to the Chinese delegation, as a set of moves by the United States and some other countries before and during the meeting had made the Chinese side suspect such a development.
As expected, the US side chose to ignore China's advice and played up the issue at the meeting. With a prepared script at hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked at length about the relationship between the South China Sea and the US national interests, the importance and urgency of maintaining navigation freedom in the South China Sea, objection to coercion and to the threat or use of force in the South China Sea, and so on and so forth.
The seemingly impartial remarks were in effect an attack on China and were designed to give the international community a wrong impression that the situation in the South China Sea is a cause for grave concern.
To uphold China's sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests, push for proper settlement of the South China Sea issue through bilateral negotiations between the claimants, and maintain stability in the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made an intervention. He presented his arguments smoothly and confidently. By way of raising a row of questions, Minister Yang expounded China's position and views and exposed the scheme of some to internationalize the South China Sea issue.
Yang said, the first question is what is the situation in the South China Sea. Is it peaceful and stable? Or is it tense? From today's discussion, most people say the situation is peaceful. And in my bilateral discussions with both ASEAN colleagues and others, they all say that there is no threat to regional peace and stability.
Second, is it an issue between China and ASEAN as a whole? Obviously not. We do have some territorial or maritime rights disputes with certain members of ASEAN. It is because we are neighbors. And those disputes shouldn't be viewed as ones between China and ASEAN as a whole just because the countries involved are ASEAN members. The non-claimant ASEAN countries tell the Chinese side that they are not part of the disputes, they don't take sides and they hope these disputes will be settled through bilateral consultations between the countries concerned.
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