A Chinese marine surveillance ship conducts patrol mission in waters of the South China Sea, file photo. (Photo/Xinhua)
Beijing's position 'remains unchanged', but Philippines broke agreement, spokesman says
China accused the United States on Friday of playing the "arbitrator outside the tribunal" card over disputes in the South China Sea, in response to recent remarks by a top U.S. official that backed the Philippines.
A United Nations arbitration tribunal has been asked by the Philippines to rule on the dispute.
"Attempting to push forward the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, the U.S. side acts like an 'arbitrator outside the tribunal', designating the direction the tribunal should take. This is inconsistent with the position the U.S. side claims to uphold on issues concerning the South China Sea disputes," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said in a written statement on Friday afternoon.
"Because it's not a party to the South China Sea issue, the U.S. should live up to its pledge of not taking sides and refrain from actions that go against regional peace and stability," Lu said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said in a speech on Tuesday that arbitration is the only practical means left for China and the Philippines to resolve their competing claims.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both have agreed to, requires compulsory dispute settlement, Russel said.
"The United States, of course, is not a party to this arbitration and does not take a position on the merits of the case. But when they became parties to the Convention, both the Philippines and China agreed to its compulsory dispute settlement regime," Russel said in his speech.
Russel also touched on issues concerning China's dotted line boundary in the sea, entitlements to maritime features and the jurisdiction of the arbitration tribunal.
In 2006, China made a declaration under Article 298 of the UNCLOS that excludes from the compulsory settlement procedures any disputes over maritime delimitation and historic titles, according to the Foreign Ministry's statement.
"China's position of neither accepting nor participating in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines remains unchanged," Lu said. "By doing so, the Philippines breached its repeatedly affirmed consensus with China and its undertakings in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea."
The Chinese government released a position paper in December to present China's stance on the South China Sea and the legal grounds supporting it.
Ministry: US playing arbitrator
Zhang Xinjun, an associate professor specializing in international law at Tsinghua University's law school, said that even though the US has been playing with words to appear to keep its promise of neutrality with regard to the competing claims in the area, China clearly doesn't buy it.
Moreover, the Philippines avoided directly questioning China's sovereignty over the South China Sea in its plea to the UN tribunal, Zhang said.
"From China's perspective, the essence of the arbitration is surely related to sovereignty. There is no way to separate the other disputes from the subject of sovereignty," Zhang said.
"The other conflict here is that the U.S. has - rather than being a shadow - almost jumped out to the front of the stage in this case.
"Interestingly, we can see that the Philippines' team of lawyers, which included top lawyers and international law scholars from Washington, have similar pursuits like the US government's stand in this area. That probably is why Mr Lu Kang called them an 'arbitrator outside the tribunal'," Zhang said.