Jointly Upholding True Multilateralism and Starting a New Journey of Maritime Governance
– Remarks by H.E. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, at the Opening Ceremony of “UNCLOS at 40: Retrospect and Prospect”
1 September 2022
The Honorable Under-Secretary-General Miguel de Serpa Soares,
It is a pleasure to meet you all via video link to mark the 40th anniversary of the opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Adopted in 1982, UNCLOS opened a new chapter of global maritime governance, and has greatly helped humanity better understand, protect and utilize the sea.
As an extensive legal instrument on maritime affairs, UNCLOS, together with other international treaties and customary international law, constitute the main pillars of the global maritime order in modern times. A review of its conclusion process, purposes and application gives us three main inspirations in addressing today’s global maritime issues.
First, it is important to uphold multilateralism. UNCLOS was concluded by over 160 countries including China through nine years of unremitting efforts of equal-footed consultation and mutual accommodation from 1973 to 1982. It made a set of arrangements to address humanity’s common interests as well as the concerns of various types of countries, and thus has been widely accepted by the international community. The Convention entitles coastal States with sovereign rights and jurisdiction in their exclusive economic zones while protecting the lawful freedoms of navigation and overflight of other States in such zones. It provides multiple means for the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes, with full respect for States Parties’ own choices of peaceful means. It also established three major regimes, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which are useful multilateral platforms for the discussions of and settlement of maritime issues. All these are a result of successful multilateral diplomacy and important outcomes of multilateralism.
Second, it is important to promote fairness and justice. China and other developing countries are committed to revising outdated maritime rules and to defending the legitimate rights and interests of all, especially medium and small countries, and have made good progress in these efforts. In its Preamble, UNCLOS stresses the imperative to realize “a just and equitable international economic order which takes into account the interests and needs of mankind as a whole”. It established management mechanisms and decision-making procedures concerning the international seabed. This has consolidated, by legal means, the principle of the common heritage of mankind, thus providing an institutional framework to ensure the effective participation of developing countries in matters related to the international seabed. Facts have proved that UNCLOS has been instrumental in opposing maritime hegemony, protecting maritime interests, and promoting maritime cooperation.
Third, it is important to stay open-minded and move forward. UNCLOS affirms that “matters not regulated by this convention continue to be governed by the rules and principles of general international law”. It also mentions several times that actions should be taken “through competent international organizations” and in compliance with “generally accepted international regulations”. This shows that UNCLOS respects other sea-related organizations and international rules. Following the adoption of the Convention, two agreements, one on the international seabed and the other on fish stocks, were concluded. Negotiations on an international agreement on maritime biodiversity are now well underway. All this shows that UNCLOS is not isolated or insulated, but rather inclusive and adjustable. It should keep pace with the times to better adapt to international maritime practices.
As a major developing maritime country, China seeks to balance its legitimate rights and interests with the overall interests of the international community, and always stands together with other developing countries. We have participated in the whole process of UNCLOS negotiations, and was among the first countries to sign the Convention. China always honors the spirit of UNCLOS, strictly fulfills its obligations, and fully supports the work of the three major institutions under the Convention. It actively carries out international maritime cooperation, and does its best to help other developing countries with their maritime capacity-building. China firmly defends the integrity and authority of UNCLOS, and opposes attempts at abusing the dispute settlement procedures of the Convention. China always believes that maritime disputes should be settled by the parties directly concerned through friendly consultation on the basis of respecting historical facts and international laws including UNCLOS.
As we speak, the world is facing once-in-a-century changes that are evolving more rapidly, and the international maritime order is undergoing profound adjustments. At this new historical starting point, we should safeguard firmly the UN-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law. We should continue to embrace the spirit of multilateralism in UNCLOS, promote the development of international maritime laws including the Convention, and build an equitable and just international maritime order, as part of our collective efforts to usher in a new journey of maritime governance.
We need to act as a community with a shared future to promote sustainable development of the sea. We need to pursue the purpose of the Convention to “promote the economic and social advancement of all peoples of the world”, and act on the Global Development Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping. We need to deepen practical maritime cooperation, develop blue partnerships, build a high-quality 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and fulfill the UN sustainable development goals. We need to tap into the development potential of the sea and turn it into an enduring driving force for sustainable development of all countries.
We need to champion dialogue and consultation to maintain peace and tranquility of the sea. The Global Security Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping provides China’s solutions to global security challenges. We should remain faithful to the Convention’s founding aspirations to maintain “peace, justice and progress for all peoples of the world”, take coordinated efforts to safeguard both traditional and non-traditional maritime security issues, always settle maritime disputes through peaceful means, and jointly tackle challenges such as piracy and armed robbery against ships. We should uphold “freedom of navigation” and oppose “freedom of willfulness”. We should advocate dialogue and consultation, and say no to sabre-rattling. All parties must bear in mind that humanity is an indivisible security community, and all should work together to safeguard maritime peace and tranquility of the world.
We need to promote international cooperation to preserve the ecological environment of the sea. We need to aim at the goal of the Convention to realize “protection and preservation of the marine environment”, act on the philosophy of green development, fulfill environmental protection obligations under the Convention, and advance global cooperation to protect the marine environment. We should prioritize science and technology, take seriously the impact of land activities and climate change on marine environment, and do more to address both the symptoms and root causes. We should strike a balance between preservation and reasonable utilization, and work together to leave clean oceans and blue sky for our future generations.
We need to uphold the international rule of law to improve global maritime governance. The Convention should be interpreted and applied in its entirety, accurately, and in good faith. Any attempt to use UNCLOS as a tool to suppress or smear other countries must be rejected. We need to improve the dispute settlement mechanisms, respect the voluntary choice of the State Parties concerned, and oppose inappropriate expansion or abuse of power by judicial bodies. The UN, the ISA, and the International Maritime Organization should work in coordination to study emerging maritime issues, and make and improve equitable and reasonable international maritime rules that can stand the test of history and reality.
The sea is the common home of humanity, and its protection and sustainable use is the shared responsibility of us all. In sea voyages, the most crucial work is to keep to the right direction. China is ready to work with all parties to uphold the purposes of UNCLOS, deliver its aspirations, and strive for a higher-standard global maritime governance and greater maritime welfare of mankind.
In conclusion, I wish this conference a full success. Thank you!