Carrying Forward the DOC Spirit and Forging Regional Consensus to Jointly Build a Sea of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation
– Remarks by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Opening Ceremony of the Workshop on Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea
Beijing, 25 July 2022
On 4 November 2002, government representatives of China and ASEAN countries solemnly signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Today, we are gathered here to relive the DOC spirit, revisit the journey leading to it, and envision future cooperation on the governance of the South China Sea. This is indeed very important.
As the first political document signed by China and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea, the DOC has established the basic principles and common norms for the parties to handle the relevant issue. Acting in compliance with the DOC over the past two decades, we have jointly maintained peace and stability and ensured freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea. Over the past two decades, the DOC has been a platform for our active maritime dialogue and cooperation, leading to early harvests in many fields. Over the past two decades, the DOC has also been a framework enabling us to consolidate political mutual trust and build vibrant relations. The successful signing and implementation of the DOC gives us important inspirations.
First, peace and stability in the South China Sea is an important precondition for regional development. Stability in the South China Sea benefits regional countries, while instability incurs misfortune. The China-ASEAN relationship always improves and grows along with the joint efforts of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, and they always reinforce each other. Bearing in mind their overall interests, China and ASEAN countries have exercised restraint, kept their differences and disputes in a proper place, and got them on the track of consultation and management as prescribed by the DOC. This has created a favorable environment and important underpinning for the development and prosperity of the countries and the well-being of the peoples in the region.
Second, countries in the region are the ones who have the final say on properly handling the South China Sea issue. Taking the South China Sea as our common home, China and ASEAN countries have creatively proposed and advanced a dual-track approach. That is, countries concerned seek to settle their maritime disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations, and China and ASEAN countries jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea. Practices have proved that the dual-track approach, which fits in well with regional reality and carries distinctive regional features, has not only been effective in managing the maritime situation and maintaining overall stability in the South China Sea, but has also laid a sound foundation for the joint protection, development, and exploitation of the South China Sea.
Third, the East Asian way is an effective means to build and uphold consensus. The DOC captures the essence of the East Asian culture, such as seeking consensus and accommodating the comfort level of all parties. It also reflects the maximum common understanding of regional countries on the South China Sea issue. In implementing the DOC, we always follow the Asian tradition of respecting each other and honoring our words. We reject zero-sum games, and advocate the positive-sum approach of win-win cooperation. All this has demonstrated the precious value and great vitality of the DOC.
The world today is in a new period of turbulence and transformation. And the South China Sea is not tranquil, either. In an attempt to preserve their hegemony, certain countries outside the region keep intensifying their power projection in this region, and deliberately seek to widen differences and provoke tensions, undermining the legitimate rights and interests of coastal countries and the normal order at sea. In face of this, China and ASEAN countries need to make our position clear: we welcome those who come here for peace and cooperation, but we ask those to leave who come here to make troubles.
As ancient Chinese wisdom cautions, one must constantly improve himself and keep abreast with the times. Two decades ago, we seized the historical opportunity and started dialogue and cooperation on the South China Sea issue. Today, in the new historical context, we must stay true to our original aspiration. We must continue to firmly uphold the purposes and principles of the DOC, unswervingly observe the norms and propositions laid out therein, and keep the initiative of resolving the South China Sea issue in the hands of regional countries. We must work together to truly build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.
We should continue to hold the bottom line of peace. The South China Sea is not a “hunting ground” for countries outside the region, still less should it be a “wrestling ground” for big powers. We should staunchly support all efforts that are conducive to peaceful settlement and management of disputes, and unequivocally reject words and actions that aim to stoke tension and confrontation in the region. We should stand on the side of people’s desire for peace and the trend of the times.
We should continue to promote dialogue and consultation. Dialogue and consultation provides the fundamental pathway to resolving differences, and it is the essence of the DOC. We need to continuously refine bilateral and multilateral mechanisms for dialogue on maritime issues, and enhance mutual trust and security through communication and consultation. We should find a way of governance of the South China Sea that takes into account the demands and interests of all relevant parties, and make joint efforts toward durable peace and security in the South China Sea.
We should continue to deepen maritime cooperation. The South China Sea is a treasure shared by all countries in the region. It is important for us to protect it well and better harness its resources. We need to make bold explorations with an open mind, gradually establish and improve mechanisms for cooperation among the coastal countries, actively promote practical cooperation in such areas as scientific research, environmental protection, search and rescue, and explore the possibility of joint resource development, in order to deliver greater benefits to the countries and peoples of the region.
We should continue to advance COC negotiations. Adopting a code of conduct in the South China Sea is an express requirement of the DOC and an imperative given the evolving situation. We should follow the spirit of the DOC, expedite our efforts toward an enhanced and upgraded version of the DOC, and strive to reach at an early date an effective and substantive COC that is consistent with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in order to provide stronger institutional safeguards for managing differences and advancing cooperation.
In recent years, President Xi Jinping has put forth the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative. Responding to the trend of the times and focusing on peace and development, these two important Initiatives have pointed the direction for our endeavor to better maintain peace in the South China Sea and promote development. With China being a major maritime country, neither its present nor its future can disassociate from the ocean, including the South China Sea. China will continue to follow the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in its neighborhood diplomacy, and work together with ASEAN countries to be a defender of maritime peace, builder of maritime order, advocate of maritime cooperation, and contributor to maritime development. I am convinced that with the tireless efforts of China and ASEAN countries, peace and stability in the South China Sea will be better preserved, and the positive momentum of maritime dialogue and cooperation will be sustained. The South China Sea and our region will enjoy a better and brighter future.
I hope that the participants will make the most of this workshop to engage in full discussion and contribute ideas and insights to the governance of the South China Sea and regional stability.
In closing, I wish the Workshop a full success.