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Interview: Irish observer says only talks can solve South China Sea issue

2016-July-9       Source: Xinhuanet.com

The South China Sea issue can only be resolved through direct bilateral talks by the parties concerned, according to an Irish observer.

The South China Sea issue can only be resolved through direct bilateral talks by the parties concerned, according to an Irish observer.

Brendan Halligan, chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), a leading independent think tank in Ireland, made the remarks in a recent interview with Xinhua.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to announce on July 12 its verdict on the South China Sea issue unilaterally proposed by the Philippines. China, the other concerned party, has repeatedly declared that it won't participate in or accept the results of the arbitration.

Halligan called on the Philippines to resolve its disputes with China through negotiation and questioned the Philippines' initiations with the arbitration. Commenting on China's stance of non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration, Halligan said it is understandable.

"In my view, the Chinese response is justified on grounds of sovereignty," he said. "It cannot be coerced into a process which involves an outside agency making decisions which would be binding on China."

"I would strongly urge the Philippines to negotiate a settlement peacefully with China based on mutual respect and compliance with established legal norms," he added.

"An issue of such historical and legal complexity can only be solved through prolonged negotiation freely conducted by the parties concerned in accordance with bilateral agreements between them and multilateral agreements to which they have subscribed," said Halligan.

Arbitration is only valid when the parties to a dispute agree beforehand to accept the findings of an arbitrator, according to Halligan.

"That is not the case here. Furthermore, any unilateral resort to arbitration would conflict with the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC)."

The DOC signed by China and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2002 seeks to promote a partnership of good neighborliness and mutual trust and is clearly the most effective way of resolving differences between sovereign states, Halligan said.

"It should be adhered to by all the parties," he said.

The Philippines claims that its 15 submissions for arbitration do not refer to territorial sovereignty, something Halligan doesn't believe. "It seems clear that territorial sovereignty is at the heart of the dispute and claims to the contrary are entirely unconvincing."

It was wrong for the arbitral tribunal to claim jurisdiction over the case, and the verdict should be "null and void," Halligan argued.

"I think it's perfectly clear that China would not be violating international law if it refused to implement the decision of a tribunal whose jurisdiction it does not accept," he said.

Additionally, Halligan said China's presence in the South China Sea does not impede the freedom of navigation in the region.

"Obviously, it's in nobody's interest to impede freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ...Furthermore, China's self interest in this matter is quite clear as its economy is hugely dependent on sea-borne trade and respect for the freedom of the seas by all parties is crucial to the continued success of the economy," he explained.

Halligan agreed that China is a victim in this regional issue, saying that it has exercised utmost restraint with a view to holding peace and stability.

China's building of facilities such as lighthouses on the islands and reefs in the region is to provide public services and goods to the international community, he concluded.

Editor: Nan

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