China’s and Vietnam’s party leaders – Hu Jintao and Nguyen Phu Trong - signed a document early this week, the Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues (关于指导解决中越海上问题基本原则协议). It’s a particular bilateral agreement between the two countries, and not the same one as an earlier agreement between ASEAN and China, the Implementation Guidelines for the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, of July this year.
International sources reported on the signing of the Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues as early as on Tuesday. The Chinese media seem to have followed with some delay. On Saturday night, it was CCTV‘s main evening newscast’s, Xinwen Lianbo‘s, turn:
CCTV’s rendition was mostly the same as the following one, by Xinhua news agency.
Links within blockquotes inserted during translation – JR.
Xinhua Newsagency Net, Beijing, October 15, by reporters Xiong Zhengyan, Liang Linlin.
China’s and Vietnam’s joint statement, issued on October 15, says that the two sides exchanged frank views on maritime issues, and emphasizes the friendly discussion and resolution of disputes, and the political will and determination to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
The statement believes that this will be in line with the fundamental interest of the two countries, and the aspirations of their people, beneficial for regional peace, cooperation and development. The two party and country leaders will regularly communicate and keep a dialog about maritime issues between their countries, and, from a high political and strategic level, properly handle and solve maritime issues.
The statement says that both sides spoke highly of the “Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues”, and believe that this agreement has great guiding significance for the proper handling and resolution of maritime issues, and will be conscientiously implemented by both sides.
The statement says that both sides will, in accordance with the two party and country leaders consensus and the “Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues”, intensify talks, seek mutually acceptable basic and lasting approaches to solutions, and actively pursue transitional and temporary approaches which will not affect either side’s respective positions and views, including active exploration and discussion of common development issues.
The statement says that the two sides will steadily promote discussion of Gulf of Tonkin (Beibu Gulf) sea border issues, and at the same time acively discuss common exploitation issues within these waters. They will actively promote maritime environmental protection, scientifc research, search-and-rescue operations, oil and gas exploration, disaster prevention and other fields of cooperation.
The statement says that before a final settlement of the maritime issues, both sides will work for the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, remain cool-headed and self-restrained, and will take no action that would complicate or aggravate the dispute. They will allow no hostile forces to destroy the relations between the two parties and countries, and will handle emerging issues in a constructive manner, not letting them affect the relations between the two parties and the two countries, or peace and stability in the South China Sea.
21 China News Net, a southern Chinese subsidiary of China Telecom, republished a Huanqiu Shibao article by Zhang Haiwen (张海文) and Liu Qing (刘卿) on Friday. It addresses the (apparently) main item of the party chairmens’ talks right away:
From the talks’ circumstances it can be seen that the leaders of both sides indicated the importance they attach to Sino-Vietnamese relations, and the continuing development of bilateral relations – which produced specific arrangements – has made it clear that the Chinese-Vietnamese relations are not “derailed”.
The two sides had shown a pragmatic attitude, the two authors laud the two party leaders, which was in line with Deng Xiaoping‘s “shelving disputes, common development” position (这符合邓小平提出的、我一贯坚持的“搁置争议、共同开发”主张).
Author Zhang Haiwen points out that she had always supported that kind of approach. Apparently, she’s deputy head (or director) of China Institute of Marine Development Strategy under the State Oceanic Administration. Indeed, the China Daily article quoting her in this capacity emphasizes the importance of a “bilateral approach”, even if Zhang herself isn’t quoted that way by China Daily. But in another article, on the issue’s legal aspects, she emphasizes that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was no appropriate standard by which the South China Sea issue could be resolved, and that China has always held that the disputes should be resolved through bilateral peaceful negotiations, based on historical facts and international laws, including the UNCLOS.
If Zhang had been part of Huanqiu‘s online collection of views on how to deal with China’s neighbors in the South China Sea dispute, she would have been counted into the “dovish” group there. That, of course, would only be true when taking Chinese domestic positions into account – no Chinese expert would (publicly) deviate from the CCP’s position in principle, anyway, which was declared a core interest some time in 2009 or 2010. A paper published in the Chinese Journal of International Law, written by Raul Pedrozo (a retired US naval officer) as an answer to an earlier paper by Zhang, suggested that
Zhang’s position on the EEZ [exclusive economic zones] exemplifies how Chinese scholars and government officials misuse the law to support China’s anti-access strategy in the maritime domain.
American involvement in the South China Sea disputes, Chinese deputy foreign minister Cui Tiankai said in June, would only made matters more complex.
That said, even if no hostile forces will be allowed to destroy the relations between the two parties and countries (China’s CCP and Vietnam’s CP – see Xinhua article at beginning of post), American aircraft carriers will remain welcome in the region. Vietnam not least will make sure. The issue won’t become a merely bilateral one any time soon.