China Could Solve Maritime Dispute Outside UN, Nobel Winner Says

China has legitimate concerns about challenges to its sovereignty and should be able to choose an alternative forum to the United Nations to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, said an outgoing UN official and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

If China “cannot accept a UN framework for discussion, let’s find another formula, a creative one, where everybody would sit around the table and put forth their views,” Jose Ramos Horta, the UN’s special representative in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, said in an interview with Angie Lau on Bloomberg Television’s “First Up.”

China, the Philippines and Vietnam are never going to renounce their claims and should instead agree to jointly develop resources in the area, he said.

The competing claims have triggered confrontation on the high seas and heightened tensions in the area, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China placing an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam, set off deadly riots in Mayu that prompted thousands of Chinese to flee the country.

The Philippines last year sought international arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to resolve its dispute with China over the Spratly Islands. China has refused international efforts to resolve the conflicts and this month reiterated that it doesn’t recognize UNCLOS as a mechanism to solve disputes.

1947 Map

China’s South China Sea claims are based on a so-called nine-dash line published by China in a 1947 map that takes in about 90 percent of the South China Sea. The line encroaches on the claims of the Philippines and Vietnam under UNCLOS, adopted by the UN in 1982, and which allows countries to claim a continental shelf and 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

China has called for the disputes in the South China Sea to be settled through direct talks with the countries concerned. Vietnam has also threatened international legal action.

“The Chinese aren’t enthusiastic about the UNCLOS even though they made made a commitment to arrive at a code of conduct” with other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, adjunct professor at the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Lam said the one-on-one negotiation framework suggested by China would skew the talks in its favor.

“There is an unequal negotiation because you have this semi-super power on the one hand with a small country like the Philippines on the other,” said Lam.

China’s history has left it wary about trusting other countries, Ramos Horta said.

‘Humiliating History’

“China is a major regional power with historical grievances,” he said. “Let us not forgot that through centuries and decades until the Cold War ended, China was invaded -- colonized by virtually almost every European power. China was victimized during WWII by the Japanese Imperial Army then came the containment policy of the United States.”

China’s President Xi Jinping said last week that China’s recent history should be remembered when its land and maritime frontiers are mentioned.

“We should never forget this humiliating history; we should remember our mission, and improve our land and maritime frontier work in a steady way,” he said at the fifth National Land and Maritime Frontier Working Conference on June 27, according to the website of Xinhua News Agency.

Ramos Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his work to end conflict in East Timor, called on governments in the region to tone down public statements and find a resolution whatever the forum. Ramos Horta’s UN role ends today. He was President of East Timor from 2007 to 2012.

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