China’s calls for South China Sea talks face challenges


BEIJING — Amid China’s outrage over an international tribunal that rejected its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the country is using new language that some experts say shows Beijing wants to be more flexible. But it is too late?

China has been on a public relations offensive to discredit The Hague-based tribunal that last week handed the Philippines a massive victory in its challenge to Beijing’s claims to much of the sea. Buried in the outpouring of statements and diplomats’ diatribes, however, is a new stance on cooperating with the Philippines and other claimants in jointly developing the waters’ rich fishing stocks and potential wealth of other natural resources.

“China is ready to discuss with countries concerned about provisional arrangements pending final settlement of the dispute,” the country’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, said last week. Yang did not describe specifics of the arrangements but said they would include joint development for “mutual benefits.”

Other official statements have also said China is willing to enter into “provisional arrangements of a practical nature,” phrasing that echoes language used in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Under UNCLOS, such “provisional arrangements” set aside issues of sovereignty and promote joint development of resources, with the understanding that cooperation would neither bolster nor undermine a state’s claims. Several Chinese analysts said it marked a new approach for China.

“It is the first time that the idea of provisional arrangements has been proposed as a policy,” said Zhu Feng, executive director of the China Center for Collaborative Studies of South China Sea of Nanjing University.