UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A Chinese official praised the U.N. International Court of Justice on Thursday and called the Chinese government "an active advocator for peaceful settlement of disputes" — but he stressed that all parties must agree on the means to settle differences.
The comments by Xu Hong, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Treaty and Law, were made as China is embroiled in disputes with several of its neighbors over its claims of sovereignty to almost all of the South China Sea.
Last week, over Chinese objections, another international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, ruled it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines against China over competing maritime claims.
China has declared that it will not take part in arbitration with the Philippines, insisting on one-on-one negotiations with smaller rival claimants which analysts say would give Beijing the advantage because of its sheer size and clout.
Xu told a U.N. General Assembly meeting on the International Court of Justice — the U.N.'s primary judicial branch — that "China stands for proper settlement through negotiations, dialogue and consultations."
But he said the means of settling disputes should be based on "sovereign equality and in full respect for the wish of the states concerned."
China, the Philippines and four other governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea. Some disputed areas are believed to sit atop vast undersea deposits of oil and gas and straddle some of the world's busiest sea lanes.
Massive land reclamation by China over the past 18 months in the South China Sea has rattled countries in the region and caused concern in the United States, which supports the freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.
Last week, a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Lassen, challenged China's claim to a 12-mile (19-kilometer) territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands.
While the Permanent Court of Arbitration has taken up the Philippines dispute with China, there have not been any cases yet at the International Court of Justice or ICJ, whose main function is to settle legal disputes submitted by countries.
Noting recent ICJ reports citing difficulties in terms of "human and financial resources," Xu told the General Assembly that China believes the court should have the resources it needs to carry out its "effective" and "high-quality judicial activities."
"China is consistently committed to settling disputes through friendly consultations and will as always support the ICJ in fulfilling its mandate," he said.
Yet China has not made a statement recognizing the ICJ's jurisdiction.
Hypothetically, however, another state could bring a case to the court, based on a treaty to which China is party and which says that disputes can be sent to the ICJ.