Jointly Upholding Genuine Multilateralism and Starting a New Path of Maritime Governance — Remarks by HE Wang Yi, State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, at the opening ceremony of “UNCLOS at 40 : Retrospect and Prospect »

The Honorable Assistant Secretary General Miguel de Serpa Soares,

Distinguished Guests,


It is a pleasure to meet you all via video link to mark the 40th anniversary of the opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Adopted in 1982, UNCLOS opened a new chapter in global maritime governance and greatly assisted humanity in better understanding, protecting and using the sea.


As an extensive legal instrument on maritime affairs, UNCLOS, along with other international treaties and customary international law, constitute the main pillars of the global maritime order in modern times. A review of its conclusion process, objectives and application gives us three main inspirations for addressing today’s global maritime issues.

First, it is important to defend multilateralism. UNCLOS was concluded by more than 160 countries, including China, in nine years of tireless efforts of equal consultation and mutual accommodation from 1973 to 1982. It made a set of arrangements to meet the common interests of mankind as well as the concerns of various kinds of countries, and has therefore been widely accepted by the international community. The Convention grants coastal states sovereign rights and jurisdiction in their exclusive economic zones while protecting the legal freedoms of navigation and overflight of other states in those areas. It provides multiple means for the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes, with full respect for States Parties’ own choices of peaceful means. It has also established three major regimes, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which are useful multilateral platforms for discussion and settlement. maritime issues. . All of this is the result of successful multilateral diplomacy and the important results of multilateralism.

Second, it is important to promote fairness and justice. China and other developing countries are committed to revising outdated maritime rules and upholding the legitimate rights and interests of everyone, especially medium and small countries, and have made good progress in these efforts. In its preamble, UNCLOS stresses the imperative of achieving “a just and equitable international economic order which takes into account the interests and needs of humanity as a whole”. It has established management mechanisms and decision-making procedures regarding the international seabed. This has consolidated, through legal means, the principle of the common heritage of mankind, thus providing an institutional framework to ensure the effective participation of developing countries in matters related to the international seabed. Facts have proven that UNCLOS has contributed to opposing maritime hegemony, protecting maritime interests and promoting maritime cooperation.

Third, it’s important to stay open-minded and move forward. UNCLOS affirms that “matters not regulated by this Convention shall continue to be governed by the rules and principles of general international law”. It also mentions several times that measures must be taken “through competent international organizations” and in accordance with “generally accepted international rules”. This shows that UNCLOS respects other sea-related organizations and international rules. Following the adoption of the Convention, two agreements, one on the international seabed and the other on fish stocks, were concluded. Negotiations on an international agreement on marine biodiversity are now well under way. All of this shows that UNCLOS is not isolated or isolated, but rather inclusive and scalable. It must evolve with the times to better adapt to international maritime practices.


As a major maritime developing country, China seeks to balance its legitimate rights and interests with the overall interests of the international community, and always stands with other developing countries. We participated in the entire UNCLOS negotiation process and were among the first countries to sign the Convention. China always honors the spirit of UNCLOS, strictly fulfills its obligations and fully supports the work of the Convention’s three main institutions. It actively pursues international maritime cooperation and strives to assist other developing countries in building their maritime capabilities. China firmly upholds the integrity and authority of UNCLOS and opposes attempts to abuse the Convention’s dispute settlement procedures. China always believes that maritime disputes should be settled by the parties directly concerned through friendly consultation based on respect for historical facts and international laws, including UNCLOS.


As we speak, the world is facing once-in-a-century changes that are moving faster and the international maritime order is undergoing profound adjustments. At this new historic starting point, we must firmly safeguard the international system centered on the United Nations and the international order based on international law. We must continue to embrace the spirit of multilateralism in UNCLOS, promote the development of international maritime law, including the Convention, and build a fair and just international maritime order, as part of our collective efforts to usher in a new voyage of maritime governance.

We must act as a community of destiny to promote the sustainable development of the sea. We must pursue the Convention’s objective of “promoting the economic and social progress of all peoples of the world” and act on the Global Development Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping. We must deepen practical maritime cooperation, develop blue partnerships, build a high-quality 21st century maritime silk road, and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We must harness the development potential of the sea and make it a sustainable engine for the sustainable development of all countries.

We must defend dialogue and consultation to maintain the peace and tranquility of the sea. The Global Security Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping provides China’s solutions to global security challenges. We must remain true to the founding aspirations of the Convention to maintain “peace, justice and progress for all the peoples of the world”, make coordinated efforts to safeguard traditional and non-traditional maritime security issues, always settle maritime disputes by peaceful means and jointly address challenges such as piracy and armed robbery against ships. We must defend “freedom of navigation” and oppose “freedom of will”. We should advocate dialogue and consultation, and say no to swordplay. All parties must bear in mind that humanity is an indivisible security community, and all must work together to safeguard maritime peace and world tranquility.

We must promote international cooperation to preserve the ecological environment of the sea. We must pursue the objective of the Convention to achieve>, act according to the philosophy of green development, fulfill the environmental protection obligations under the Convention and advance global cooperation to protect the marine environment. We must prioritize science and technology, take seriously the impact of land-based activities and climate change on the marine environment, and do more to address both the symptoms and the root causes. We must strike a balance between conservation and wise use, and work together to leave clean oceans and blue skies for our future generations.

We must uphold the international rule of law to improve global maritime governance. The Agreement must be interpreted and applied fully, accurately and in good faith. Any attempt to use UNCLOS as a tool to suppress or smear other countries must be rejected. We must improve dispute resolution mechanisms, respect the voluntary choice of the States parties concerned and oppose the inappropriate expansion or abuse of power by judicial bodies. The UN, ISA and the International Maritime Organization should work in coordination to study emerging maritime issues and develop and improve fair and reasonable international maritime rules that can stand the test of history and reality.


The sea is the common home of humanity, and its protection and sustainable use is the responsibility of all of us. In sea travel, the most crucial job is to keep the right direction. China stands ready to work with all parties to uphold the goals of UNCLOS, realize its aspirations and strive for better global maritime governance and greater maritime well-being of mankind.

In conclusion, I wish this conference every success. Thanks!

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