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Spratlys > News > English News > August 2002

Category: @News

Envoy: China Seeks Peace

FEER By Li Jiazhong - Issue cover-dated August 22, 2002

The writer was China's ambassador to Laos in 1994-1995 and to Vietnam in 1995-2000

In China Holds the Indochina Key [June 6], my fellow columnist on this page, Stephen B. Young, says "Beijing and Hanoi signed a secret agreement to cede Vietnamese territory to China," and "another secret treaty ceding to China rights over former Vietnamese waters in the Gulf of Tonkin." Let me state some facts about the three major boundary questions between China and Vietnam: the delimitation of the land boundary, the Beibu Gulf (also known as the Gulf of Tonkin) and sovereign rights over the Nansha islands [also known as the Spratlys].

The land border was delimited between the Qing and French governments at the end of the 19th century when, confined by technological inadequacies of the time, the two left behind some disputed areas. But based on the Sino-French convention and guided by the principles of fairness, equity and through friendly consultations, China and Vietnam rechecked and ratified the boundary and signed the Sino-Vietnamese Convention Concerning the Land Boundary in 1999. As a gulf encircled by mainland China, Hainan and Vietnamese territory, the Beibu Gulf has been owned by both China and Vietnam. It was not delimited until 2000, when the two countries, through negotiations under international laws of the sea and with reference to international practice, signed a convention. These two equitable conventions have laid a solid foundation for the establishment of a boundary that helps maintain prolonged peace and friendship between the two countries, and contribute to consolidating regional peace and stability. Welcomed by both Chinese and Vietnamese people, they also received positive comments from the media in the region.

Young claims that "only very recently has any Chinese government advanced serious claims to the South China Sea." The truth is that Xisha [Paracel] and Nansha islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times. China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands and their adjacent waters. Others in the region did not raise objection to China's sovereignty over the Nansha islands before the 1970s. Even so, for the sake of regional prosperity and development, China advocates appropriate settlement of the present disputes through negotiations between relevant parties.

Young also says that "China opposes democratization in Vietnam and Burma," and is "supporting repressive rule" there and that China "should accord to them . . . independence." These are misinterpretation of China's policy toward Burma and Vietnam. China pursues the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in handling relations with other countries. It respects other countries' right to choose their own way of development. It opposes indiscreet or irresponsible remarks on other countries' domestic issues. We are in favour of dialogue and contacts with the Burmese government instead of imposing sanctions. At the same time, we keep a normal state-to-state relationship with Burma. As its neighbour, China wishes to see Burma progress in maintaining political stability, in improving its economy and in realizing ethnic harmony. As for Vietnam's ongoing reform and opening-up, China gives full support to and shares its experience with Vietnam on a comprehensive, dynamic and in-depth basis.

Young alleges that China "has so much influence, in fact, that [it] has gained naval access to the Indian Ocean through Burmese coastal stations," that its "money is the dominant factor in Cambodia's economy" and that it "wanted Vietnam to expand the port of Vinh to accommodate up to 900 Chinese vessels." These allegations are absolutely groundless. With the recent development of regional economic integration, China has made gratifying achievements in mutually beneficial cooperation with countries in Indochina. Chinese companies are engaged in some infrastructure projects through a bidding process. China is collaborating with Thailand, Burma and Laos in the Mekong River navigation project. It is also doing feasibility research with Burma to open a passage for a combined highway-waterway system. I have participated in and witnessed some of these activities, all normal and mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The aim is to promote trade, personal exchanges and tourism, which will help to narrow the development gap between new and old members of Asean.

China treasures the traditional friendship and good-neighbourliness with countries in Indochina. Our interests there is to maintain regional peace, stability and development. We are not trying to "control" or "penetrate" the area, let alone making it a springboard to the Indian Ocean. Surely analyzing international issues with a Cold War mentality, or confrontationally, is out of date.