Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith,
It gives me great pleasure to join you in the beautiful city of Vientiane.
The world political and economic landscape is undergoing complex and profound changes. There has been anemic global growth, resurfacing trade protectionism, and increasing regional hotspots and global challenges such as political and security conflicts and turbulence, refugee flow and terrorism. All this makes it imperative and daunting to promote steady world economic recovery and maintain international peace and stability. In comparison, East Asia is still regarded as a land free of war and conflict and a land of robust growth of trade and investment. It is with such peace and stability that we have achieved development and prosperity. Such achievements are hard-won and should be doubly cherished by all sides.
Since its inception in 2005, the EAS has played a positive role in enhancing mutual understanding and mutual trust as well as regional peace, stability, development and prosperity. The EAS has now entered its second decade. Parties need to cherish and draw on the experience that the EAS has obtained, keep working in the right direction, highlight priorities, and secure steady progress for East Asian cooperation for the long run.
We need to keep the EAS as a “leaders-led” strategic forum, support ASEAN centrality, adhere to the ASEAN way of building consensus and accommodating each other’s comfort level, and advance dialogue and cooperation in a positive and pragmatic way. China supports institution building of the EAS and the setting up of an EAS unit of ASEAN Secretariat. China hopes that the unit will coordinate efforts to review progress in the Plan of Action to Implement the Phnom Penh Declaration on the EAS Development Initiative and that the drafting of a second-phase plan of action will be started in due course, so as to take EAS cooperation to new heights.
Economic development cooperation and political and security cooperation are the two wheels driving EAS forward. They should reinforce each other and advance in parallel.
In economic development: first, we need to vigorously support connectivity building in the region. China and Laos have jointly proposed a Vientiane Declaration on Promoting Infrastructure Development Cooperation in East Asia to be issued at today’s EAS with a view to inject enduring impetus to regional integration. China hopes to work with all parties to promote development of the Belt and Road Initiative. We could use such financing platforms as the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund to provide capital support for regional connectivity. Second, we need to speed up the building of FTAs. China and ASEAN are stepping up efforts to deliver the outcomes of the protocol to upgrade the FTA, and China, Japan and the ROK will work together for early progress in the negotiations of the trilateral FTA. We hope to see early conclusion of the RCEP negotiations so that the RCEP and other free trade arrangements will reinforce each other and promote the development of an inclusive FTA of the Asia-Pacific. Third, we need to strengthen cooperation in areas related to people’s well-being. China will ensure success of the EAS Clean Energy Forum and EAS New Energy Forum, and will facilitate sharing of relevant technologies and experience. China will continue to engage actively in education policy dialogue with countries in the region and will encourage cooperation in training programs and exchanges in language and culture.
In the political and security area, China upholds the diplomatic tradition that all countries, irrespective of size, are equal and should respect one another; China champions a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and calls for joint efforts to uphold regional peace and tranquillity. First, we need to enhance non-traditional security cooperation. Non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, natural disasters, transnational crimes and infectious diseases are getting more prominent and posing imminent security challenges to countries in the region. China will step up cooperation with all parties to cope with these challenges. Since 2012, China, the United States and relevant UN agencies have held five rounds of earthquake emergency response exercises and will hold the sixth round next year. China will host a workshop to exchange experience in maritime search and rescue next year. Second, we need to explore building of the regional security architecture. The EAS, as a strategic forum, should pay high attention to the regional security architecture. It should foster a new thinking on regional security and build a regional security architecture that reflects the reality of the region and meets the need of all parties concerned. China welcomes the sixth Seminar on Regional Security Architecture to be hosted by Thailand next year and will consider holding a track-two workshop in this regard. Third, we need to properly handle hotspot and sensitive issues. Countries in this region live side by side as neighbors. Frictions are hardly avoidable, just like between the tongue and the teeth. Parties concerned need to adhere to the principle of mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and peaceful coexistence, and properly handle differences and disagreements through direct negotiation and consultation. Pending the final solution of relevant issues, it is important to carry out dialogue, seek cooperation, manage differences and frictions and prevent escalation of tension.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains complex and sensitive. China’s position regarding the Korean Peninsula is consistent. We are committed to the nuclear nonproliferation regime, to denuclearization on the Peninsula, to maintaining peace and stability there, and to resolving issues through dialogue and consultation. Parties need to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions in their entirety. They need to work together to maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula, and quickly bring the Korean nuclear issue back to the track of dialogue and negotiation. China firmly opposes any move that might aggravate tension in the region, and welcomes all actions and dialogue that are conducive to easing tension in that part of the region.
Just now, some colleagues talked about the South China Sea. For me, I wish to say the following.
First, China is a state party to UNCLOS and China implements the convention in good faith. According to UNCLOS, state parties have the right to primacy on peaceful settlement of disputes through direct dialogue and consultation. By not accepting and not participating in third-party settlement procedures like an arbitration, China is in fact exercising its right bestowed by international law including UNCLOS. The truth is, certain countries present here have also adopted similar positions.
Second, over the past decade or more, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) agreed upon between China and ASEAN countries has served as a basis for peace and stability in the South China Sea. The DOC is formulated on the basis of and is in keeping with the principles and spirit of international law, UNCLOS included. It has become an effective norm for the region to act upon. Regarding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, there has been no problem whatsoever in the first place. According to the DOC, relevant disputes in the South China Sea shall be peacefully resolved by parties directly concerned through negotiation and consultation. All parties should follow this provision and honor their commitment made accordingly. Moves of unilaterally initiating arbitration and bringing in a third party constitute violations of the DOC. Non-observance of the most forthright and clear norms of the region will do nothing but further complicate the issue. It will disrupt the rules-based regional order and undermine peace and stability in the region.
Third, China and ASEAN countries are actively implementing the DOC and advancing consultations on a Code of Conduct. The purpose is to properly regulate and manage the South China Sea issue, and to address disputes, resolve disagreements and advance cooperation pending final settlement of disputes. Implementation of the DOC provides the basis for COC consultations. To effectively advance COC consultations, the DOC must be implemented and adhered to in good faith. This serves the interests of all parties.
The Chairman’s Statement issued at yesterday’s ASEAN Plus China Summit fully recognizes the achievements made over the past 25 years in China-ASEAN dialogue relations, and reiterates a commitment to properly handling disputes through the DOC and a COC now under consultation, in order to maintain stability in the South China Sea. The summit also adopted the Guidelines for Hotline Communications Among Senior Officials of the MFA of ASEAN Member States and China in Response to Maritime Emergencies and the Joint Statement on the Application of the CUEs in the South China Sea. All these fully demonstrate that China and ASEAN have found an effective way of dispute management that embodies the norms of international law. They also show that China and ASEAN countries have the wisdom and capability to properly handle the South China Sea issue. Countries from outside the region need to show understanding and support for the positive efforts made by countries in the region, and should not do things to play up the differences, or to expand or even trigger disputes.
China has acted in the larger interests of regional peace and stability and approached the South China Sea issue in a constructive and responsible manner. China stands ready to work with all parties concerned to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship for the benefit of people of all countries in the region.
East Asia now faces huge opportunities for peace, stability, prosperity and development. As a saying in Laos goes, “One trunk does not make a fence. And a village will not be a good place without every villager working for it together.” I hope that parties will work together to promote steady progress of East Asian cooperation and contribute to peace, stability and enduring prosperity of the region, the benefit of people of all countries.