Water Wars

Water Wars: Update on Joint Press Conference

By Zack Bluestone
Friday, September 25, 2015, 7:57 PM

Presidents Xi Jinping and Barak Obama hold joint press conference in the Rose Garden (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Given the potential magnitude of this afternoon’s events on Sino-U.S. relations in the South and East China Seas, I wanted to provide a brief update on the Water Wars post earlier today.

Messrs. Obama and Xi delivered a joint press conference this afternoon as scheduled from the Rose Garden. The White House has already released the full text of the remarks, but there are two main sections of the exchange that warrant revisiting in full.

President Obama summarized his understand of bilateral relations in the Asian Pacific:

[W]ith respect to security in the Asia Pacific, we agreed to new channels of communication to reduce the risks of miscalculations between our militaries. . . . We did have candid discussions on the East and South China Seas, and I reiterated the right of all countries to freedom of navigation and overflight and to unimpeded commerce. As such, I indicated that the United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law allows. I conveyed to President Xi our significant concerns over land reclamation, construction and the militarization of disputed areas, which makes it harder for countries in the region to resolve disagreements peacefully. And I encouraged a resolution between claimants in these areas. We are not a claimant; we just want to make sure that the rules of the road are upheld.

President Xi, for his part, provided significantly more detail on the leaders’ exchange over maritime interests in the South (but not East) China Sea:

We have in-depth discussion on the situation of the Asia Pacific. And we believe that China and the United States have extensive common interests in this region, and we should continue to deepen dialogue and cooperation on regional affairs and work together to promote active interactions and inclusive cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and work with countries in the Asia Pacific to promote peace, stability, and prosperity in this region.

China is committed to the path of peaceful development and a neighboring foreign policy characterized by good neighborliness and partnership with our neighbors. Islands in the South China Sea since ancient times are China’s territory. We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests. We are committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, managing differences and disputes through dialogue, and addressing disputes through negotiation, consultation, and peaceful manner, and exploring ways to achieve mutual benefit through cooperation.

We're committed to respecting and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy according to international law. Relevant construction activities that China are undertaking in the island of South -- Nansha Islands do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend to pursue militarization.

China and the United States have a lot of common interests on the issue of South China Sea. We both support peace and stability of the South China Sea. The countries directly involved should address their dispute through negotiation, consultation and in peaceful means. And we support freedom of navigation and overflight of countries according to international law and the management of differences through dialogue, and full and effective implementation of DOC and an early conclusion of the consultation of COC based on consensus-building. We have agreed to maintain constructive communication on relevant issues.

Also of note, the White House posted a summary of the output of Messrs. Obama and Xi’s meetings entitled “FACT SHEET: President Xi’s State Visit to the United States.” Most relevant for Water Wars readers, the leaders agreed to strengthen bilateral relations with respect to military relations. This included completing new annexes for air-to-air safety and crisis communications to the Memoranda of Understanding on Confidence Building Measures originally signed last year. Additionally, the U.S. and PRC Coast Guards “have committed to pursue an arrangement whose intended purpose is equivalent to the Rules of Behavior Confidence Building Measure annex on surface-to-surface encounters.”

That’s all for this week, but join us next Friday for a full recap of the remainder of President Xi’s visit to the United States and the latest on the South and East China Seas.