SINGAPORE, May 31 (Xinhua) -- The freedom and safety of navigation on the South China Sea is more important to China and other countries in the region if it is important to the United States, Fu Ying, a former senior diplomat, said at a regional security forum on Saturday.
"We are very much dependent on it," she said in a panel discussion on the management of open sea at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Fu, currently chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, said China has six of the world's busiest container ports.
She highlighted tsunami, typhoon, natural calamities, accidents and pirates as security challenges at the sea. She also cited the example of the missing flight MH370 of Malaysia Airlines, which was believed to have plunged into the Indian Ocean but was nowhere to be found.
China has benefited from the peaceful environment over the past decades and has been undertaking more responsibilities in recent years in ensuring a peaceful environment at the sea. It has been sending vessels to the Gulf of Aden to escort business ships.
China has been actively participating in the maritime cooperation under regional multilateral mechanisms and hosted many of the projects under the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum. China and Malaysia will jointly conduct a rescue exercise for the fourth time this year.
Fu, formerly vice minister of foreign affairs, also said that the freedom of navigation has often been used as an excuse in the South China Sea "as if sky is falling."
"Actually we have strong cooperation ensuring continued freedom and safety of navigation in this region," she said.
She said that it is important to cultivate the habit and skills of cooperation in Asia as China pursues common security.
"For us, we don't think any country can achieve security at the expense of other countries," she said.
She said she was surprised by some of the languages at the Shangri-La Dialogue that are "more like in the 20th century than in the 21st century."
"We are in the 21st century. We should not keep on resorting to the 20th century mentality that is about war and conflict," she said.
Fu also responded to a Japanese professor of international law at the panel discussion who put forward "hypothetical cases" of island disputes.
She said that the Xisha Islands and the Nansha Islands, both in the South China Sea, were first discovered by the Chinese hundreds of years before they were occupied by Japan during World War II. Those islands, including those taken from China after the Sino- Japanese War of 1894-1895, were returned to China under the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation.
"China has a very clear claim on those islands," she said. "I think both the Japanese government and the U.S. government... have a very clear record of these."
Disputes on the Nansha Islands appeared only later. China and the other countries involved have stuck to the path of resolving the disputes through peaceful consultations, managing the disputes through dialogues before they are resolved, maintaining peace sand stability on the sea, and exploring possibilities of joint development.
"I think China is sometimes confronted with difficult challenges, especially when some countries provoke unilaterally the status quo," she said.
She said that it should not be difficult for China and ASEAN countries to find a way to maintain peace and stability in the region if they can "sit down and come back to the DOC principles."
China and ASEAN countries concluded the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002 after ten years of negotiations.
Fu questioned Japanese prime minister and the Japanese speaker' s use of "international law" to advance their thinly-veined goals.
"I am amazed at how often you use the word international law, and sometimes you sound as if you owned the law," she said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could set a very good example of abiding by the international law by announcing a ban on whale hunting, which has been carried out in the name of " scientific research," Fu said.