|Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei's Regular Press Conference on May 5, 2016|
Q: It is known that a series of senior officials' meetings (SOM) on East Asia cooperation will be held in Laos. Whom will China send for the meetings? What are the topics of these meetings?
A: The ASEAN-China, Japan, ROK (10+3) SOM, the East Asia Summit (EAS) SOM, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) SOM will be held in Luang Prabang, Laos on May 7 and 8. China attaches great importance to these meetings as this is the first time for Laos to hold a series of East Asia cooperation SOMs since it assumed the rotating presidency of ASEAN. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin will lead a delegation for these meetings.
The meetings will focus on the development of cooperation mechanisms namely 10+3, EAS and ARF as well as practical cooperation across the board, exchange views on international and regional issues of common interest, and lay the ground for the leaders' meetings and foreign ministers' meetings on East Asia cooperation to be held later this year.
In the upcoming meetings, China will elaborate on the steps taken to implement the outcomes of last year's East Asia cooperation leaders' meetings, present its position and views regarding the future development of East Asia regional cooperation mechanisms as well as its stance on international and regional issues.
It is hoped that this series of meetings will put development at center, promote practical cooperation, maintain the enabling environment for East Asia cooperation, and make contribution to regional peace, stability, prosperity and development.
Q: There are voices asking China to accept the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, otherwise China is violating international law. Meanwhile, there are experts on international law saying that the South China Sea arbitration goes against the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and undermines international rule of law. How do you comment?
A: China's non-acceptance and non-participation of the South China Sea arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines is actually acting in accordance with law. As early as 2006, China has released a governmental statement on optional exceptions excluding compulsory arbitration following Article 298 of UNCLOS.
The crux of China-Philippine disputes in the South China Sea is the territorial dispute caused by the Philippines' invasion and illegal occupation of some islands and reefs of China's Nansha Islands as well as the disputes on maritime delimitation between China and the Philippines. The compulsory settlement procedure provided for in UNCLOS does not apply to these disputes.
The Philippines unilaterally initiated and pushed for the arbitration, abusing the compulsory settlement procedure of UNCLOS. The Philippines attempts to target China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in its claim, package the items of arbitration into issues concerning the interpretation and application of UNCLOS, cover up its illegal occupation and invasion of some islands and reefs of China's Nansha Islands, and whitewash its unlawful acts. Acts by the Philippines constitute provocation to the basic principles of international law featuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is such illicit acts that rock the foundation of modern international law and international order, deviate from the purposes of UNCLOS, and undermine the integrity and sanctity of UNCLOS.
The arbitration case initiated by the Philippines, from the very beginning, is not legal nor justifiable. Its true intention is to politically confront China under the cloak of law. We are firmly opposed to certain country's plot to hijack international rule of law for its own selfish gains, sabotage the rule of law under the excuse of "safeguarding the rule of law" and trample on international fairness and justice.
Q: The Philippines claims that arbitration is its last resort after all bilateral means were exhausted. On the other hand, some people say that China and the Philippines have never held any negotiation on the items in Philippine's claims. What's your take on this?
A: China and the Philippines have agreed to solve the South China Sea disputes through negotiation as defined in a serious of bilateral and multilateral documents, and it is the Philippines that dishonored its own commitment. The door for negotiation is always open to the Philippines. There have been close communication and multiple rounds of consultation between China and the Philippines on strengthening mutual trust, managing disputes and enhancing maritime cooperation. The Philippines has never negotiated with China at all on any single item in the arbitration. "Exhausting all bilateral means" is only a lie cooked up by the Philippines.
Q: Yesterday Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his hope for the resumption of Syrian peace talks at Geneva in May. What do you think of the possibility of the resumption of peace talks in May? How do you comment on the direct dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition?
A: We support Russia's proposal to resume Syrian peace talks at an early date. It is our consistent position that political settlement is the only realistic way out of the Syrian issue. We must stick to this path despite difficulties and setbacks that may occur along the way. Relevant parties in Syria should uphold the hard-won ceasefire, and work continuously to create favorable conditions for the political settlement of the Syrian issue. China is willing to work in concert with Russia and relevant parties to move forward the political process of the Syrian issue.
Q: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2016 Annual Report, which once again designates China as a "country of particular concern". How do you comment?
A: The Chinese government fully respects and safeguards Chinese citizens' freedom of religious belief. Chinese citizens are entitled to the right of religious freedom under the law. The US side issues such report year after year irrespective of the fact, distorting and attacking China's religion policies and realities. China is firmly opposed to this and has lodged solemn representations with the US. We ask the US side to respect the fact, discard prejudice, take an objective and fair look at China's religion policies and freedom of religious belief, and stop interfering in China's domestic affairs with the tool of religion. The US side should do more to reflect on its own problems, instead of pointing fingers at others.
Q: How does China see Turkey's role in resolving the Syrian issue?
A: Resolving the Syrian issue through political means meets the fundamental interests of the Syrian people and the common aspiration of the international community. We hope relevant parties of the international community would all put in efforts for the political settlement of the Syrian issue and play a constructive role to this end.