China's U.S. Ambassador Blames South China Sea Turmoil on Pivot

July 12, 2016

Speaking at CSIS after the conclusion of CSIS's day-long drumbeat for war, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, gave a rather thorough response to Tuesday's decision by the Arbitration Court.

“China rejects the court's decision,” Cui said, because “the case violates the general practice on having the states themselves consent to proceed to arbitration.” Secondly, he noted, the court “exceeded its authorization since territorial issues are not subject to UNCLOS.” The decision to take the case was a matter of “professional incompetence' and “questionable interpretation”. In addition, he added “it was not done in good faith.”  “UNCLOS,” he said, “calls for mutual cooperation and understanding. But this was an attempt to use the legal system for an extraneous purpose. It will also undermine the willingness of nations to engage in negotiations in order to resolve territorial disputes.”  “Abusing the arbitration procedures in this way will weaken the motivation of states to negotiate. It will intensify conflicts and even cause confrontation. In effect, it will undermine international law,” he said.

He then went on, regarding the deployment of U.S. warships to the region. “Sending these carriers and bombers is a manifestation of the law 'might makes right',” Cui said. “Therefore China has to oppose and reject it. This is in the true spirit of international law. And if it happens to us, it could happen to anyone.” “China,” he said, “would not use international bodies in that way, but they would defend their sovereignty. Because if any country fails to defend its sovereignty, it has no dignity to speak of.”

And the problem did not begin with China, he said. China and other countries had been well on the way to overcome their differences. “The tensions started to rise five or six years ago when we started to hear about the 'pivot',” Cui said. “And has anybody benefited from this? I don't think so. If economic growth is weakened, everybody will be hurt,” he warned. “And to those who hereby think they have a 'free ride' because of this, I urge them go to Iraq and to Syria and see how things worked out there. Be careful what you wish for,” he said.

Cui also noted that China was not the first, but rather the last country to build structures on the islands and reefs, which were in their territorial claims, and the facilities they built, like lighthouses, benefited all. On freedom of navigation he distinguished between freedom of navigation for commercial vessels, which have never been threatened by China, and military vessels.  “China supports the freedom of navigation for commercial vessels since commerce is extremely important for China. The deployment of naval warships, on the other hand, could actually threaten the freedom of navigation for commercial vessels.” “Negotiations and consultation offer the most successful way to resolve the issues,” Cui said. “Peace cannot be brought by a fleet of aircraft carriers,” he said.