|China, a Staunch Defender and Builder of International Rule of Law|
By Mr. Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the People’s Republic of China
October 24th is the United Nations Day. On this day sixty-nine years ago, the Charter of the United Nations, the instrument of international law with the most far-reaching impact on world peace and security in the modern history of international relations, officially came into effect. On this important day, there is every necessity for us to review the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, reaffirm the commitment to maintaining peace and international rule of law, reject the law of the jungle where the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must, and uphold international rule of law, equity and justice.
Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out in his address delivered in June this year at the meeting commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence that countries should make joint efforts to promote the rule of law in international relations, abide by international law and universally recognized basic principles governing international relations, and apply common rules to tell right from wrong and pursue peace and development. This is an incisive exposition of China’s firm commitment to upholding and promoting international rule of law.
Upholding international rule of law is a momentous choice China has made based on its own experience. In the more than 100 years after the Opium War, colonialism and imperialism inflicted untold sufferings on China. For many years, China was unjustly deprived of the right by imperialist powers to equal application of international law. The Chinese people fought indomitably and tenaciously to uphold China's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and founded New China. China strove to build a new type of relations with other countries in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence on the basis of international law. It broke isolation, blockade and military threat imposed by imperialism and hegemonism, regained its lawful seat in the United Nations, started reform and opening-up program, became fully integrated into the international system, and made remarkable achievements in development. Seeing the contrast between China's past and present, the Chinese people fully recognize how valuable sovereignty, independence and peace are. China ardently hopes for the rule of law in international relations against hegemony and power politics, and rules-based equity and justice, and hopes that the humiliation and sufferings it was subjected to will not happen to others.
China has consistently upheld international rule of law in its diplomatic practice. China has contributed its vision to and set an example for international rule of law. In the past 60 years, China has championed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. These principles have been written into China’s Constitution and communiqués on the establishment of diplomatic relations and bilateral treaties with over 160 countries, and they have become the cornerstone of China’s independent foreign policy of peace. In conducting diplomacy, China has never done anything that violates international law or pursued its own interests at the expense of other countries, irrespective of their size, level of development, strength or values. At the same time, China firmly upholds its sovereignty, security and development interests in accordance with the law. China speaks out to uphold justice on major international and regional issues and firmly defends the basic principles of international law with the UN Charter as the core and basic norms governing international relations. China is committed to peaceful settlement of international disputes and outstanding historical issues. It has completely settled land boundary issues with 12 out of its 14 neighbors through negotiations, and has resolved the issue of boundary delineation of the Beibu Gulf with Vietnam. China has taken a constructive part in the formulation of international rules and contributed its input on major issues concerning the interpretation, application and development of international law. China has concluded more than 23,000 bilateral agreements, acceded to over 400 multilateral treaties and joined almost all the international organizations at the inter-governmental level. China honors its treaty obligations in both letter and spirit in accordance with the principle of “Pacta Sunt Servanda”, and takes seriously its international responsibilities.
Promoting international rule of law serves China’s inevitable needs for peaceful development. China has made the strategic choice to steadfastly follow the path of peaceful development, which features the pursuit of peace, development, cooperation and win-win outcome. The path will be broader and more smooth so long as countries properly handle their respective relations of interests in accordance with international law and rules guiding international relations. Defying rules or following a beggar-thy-neighbor policy will get one nowhere and hence will never become a hallmark of China’s peaceful development. The more China develops, the greater its needs to cooperate closely with other countries and the more it desires a peaceful and stable international environment. As China grows stronger, it will make greater contribution to the maintenance and promotion of international rule of law, as it works with other countries to build a fairer and more reasonable international political and economic order.
Since the end of World War II, international rule of law has traversed a zig-zag course, but moved forward in providing an important institutional safeguard for the promotion of world peace and common development. The UN Charter has laid down a solid foundation for building international rule of law through the true and universal application of international law in all countries. With international cooperation in various areas growing robustly, international rules have become improved and assumed greater binding power. From outer space to the bottom of the ocean, from science expedition in the Antarctica to cooperation in Arctic affairs, and from climate change to environmental protection, international rules are everywhere and affect people’s lives in a fundamental way. In today’s world, acting in accordance with international law is the common sense, whereas breaching international law is unpopular.
Meanwhile, promoting international rule of law is still faced with many difficulties and challenges. Hegemonism, power politics and all forms of “new interventionism” pose a direct challenge to basic principles of international law including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Some countries follow a pragmatist or a double-standard approach to international law, using whatever that suits their interests and abandoning whatever that does not. What is more, North-South inequality in the formulation and application of international rules remains salient. Rules dealing with cyber security, terrorism, climate change and other global issues need to be further improved. Promoting international rule of law remains a long and uphill battle.
The just concluded Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee made important arrangements on comprehensively promoting rule of law, sending a clear signal to the world of China’s commitment to building a country ruled by law. Diplomacy is an extension of domestic affairs. Therefore, China, which is committed to rule of law at home, will naturally act as a strong defender and active builder of international rule of law. To this end, we suggest that the following principles be observed in earnest.
First, we must uphold international law and the universally recognized norms governing international relations, so as to shore up the foundation of international rule of law. Such principles as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of international disputes and non-interference in the internal affairs of others, as enshrined in the UN Charter, are the foundation stones upon which modern international law and conduct of international relations are built. They are the core elements that must be adhered to in promoting international rule of law. What has transpired in international relations shows time and again that these principles, if followed in earnest, are the blessings for all mankind, while their breach and betrayal will cause endless harm.
Second, we must commit to the overarching goal of peace, development, cooperation and win-win outcome, so as to strengthen the values underpinning the basis of international rule of law. Making good laws for a country and the country will be well-governed. In promoting international rule of law, the most important thing is to use universally applicable rules in international relations to distinguish right and wrong, end disputes and seek a win-win solution through coordination. This is vital to international rule of law. The formulation, interpretation and application of international law should all be conducive to this goal. Under no circumstances should we inflate the arrogance of hegemonism and power politics, still less use international rule of law to instigate disagreement and friction, for it will only lead us to a wrong direction.
Third, we must ensure an equal and democratic participation in the making of international rules, so as to highlight the nature of international rule of law. Promoting greater democracy in international relations is the aspiration of all countries and represents the historical trend of development. We must work hard to bring all countries, particularly the developing countries, into the rule-making process as equals. In international legislation, it is important to reflect countries’ concerns in a balanced manner and to resist the attempt to make the rules of certain countries as “international rules”, and their standards “international standards”.
Fourth, we must uphold the authority of international law, so as to maintain the credibility of international rule of law. Laws must be enforced in a just manner. All countries must make international law their common yardstick, exercise their rights in its accordance, fulfill their obligations in good faith and ensure the equal and universal application of international law. National and international judicial institutions should avoid overstepping their authority in interpreting and applying international law. Still less should they encroach on the rights and interests of other countries under the pretext of “the rule of law” in total disregard of objectivity and fairness.
Success hinges on persistence rather than speed. As long as the international community work hand in hand with a firm commitment, they will surely overcome all obstacles and challenges, steadily advance the cause of international rule of law, and bathe the development of mankind in the warm sunshine of international equity and justice.