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South China Sea


Hon. Michael L. MacDonald: I am pleased to rise today to address Senator Ngo's timely motion regarding China's hostile behaviour in the South China Sea. For reasons I will outline, this issue is of great consequence to the security and stability in the region, and its proper resolution is in the collective interests of the global community.

As tensions continue to rise, and with daily reports of increased military activity in the area, it is crucial that we as senators act on this motion in a timely manner.

I must start first by acknowledging the work that Senator Ngo has done on this issue. Prior to presenting this motion, Senator Ngo had addressed this matter in the form of an inquiry here in the Senate Chamber. However, given the escalating nature of the situation, Senator Ngo has taken the appropriate initiative in presenting a stronger response in the form of this motion.

For those who did not hear his speech to this motion, or his related inquiry, I would encourage you to read it, as it provides an excellent overview of the situation as well as the historical context that has precipitated the escalation of tensions in this area.

Senator Ngo's motion would send a strong message to our government that the current state of affairs in the South China Sea is unacceptable and that Canada must do more to encourage a peaceful resolution.

His motion would urge the government to encourage all parties involved, and in particular China, to first recognize the rights enshrined in international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Second, cease activities such as the construction of artificial islands and the militarization of the region that has served to complicate and escalate this dispute.

Third, abide by multilateral efforts to resolve the situation and implement a binding code of conduct in the region.

Fourth, commit to a peaceful and diplomatic solution while respecting settlements of international arbitration.

Fifth and finally, strengthen efforts to reduce the environmental impacts the dispute has had on the ecosystem in the region.

Senator Martin also spoke eloquently to this motion and provided a reasoned voice to these discussions. I will not repeat many of the facts already outlined by my colleagues, but I do think it is important to provide some basic context as I speak to you today.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are certainly not a new phenomenon. There have been competing claims to these islands and waters throughout modern history as well as several unfortunate instances of armed conflict.

In addition to China, other coastal countries in the region have competing and to varying degrees overlapping claims within the region, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, where amongst the most contentious of the disputes is over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

It is necessary, colleagues, to consider and fully understand what is at stake. The South China Sea in and of itself is a transitway for approximately 30 per cent of the world's marine trade annually, amounting to a worth of an estimated $5.3 trillion U.S.

The South China Sea is also host to an abundance of valued fisheries, as well as substantial hydrocarbon deposits touting an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

There is no doubt that the South China Sea is an area of substantial strategic and economic value, and as mounting tensions in the region continue to increasingly jeopardize regional security, it is necessary to understand that the implications of any conflict are truly global in scale.

Given Canada's economic investment in the area, not to mention our consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the stakes are high for Canada.

China's claim in the South China Sea is based on what is known as the "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly 85 per cent of the sea. China has stated to the United Nations that it has "indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and the subsoil thereof." Though neighbouring countries have competing claims, they are far less expansive.

As has been widely reported, to bolster their historic claim, China has been constructing several artificial islands in the area. Time-lapse satellite images clearly show the transformation of subsurface reefs into islands fit with ports and airstrips. To create the islands, the Chinese have used dredging barges that pull sediment from the seabed floor and deposit the material on the existing reef, forming artificial islands. Needless to say, the process is extremely detrimental to the sensitive ecosystem in the area.

Equally unnerving are the recent reports detailing Chinese military occupation of these islands. Chinese military aircraft, including fighter aircraft and surveillance drones, as well as anti- ship and anti-aircraft missiles are reported to have fortified these islands. Consequently, other countries in the area have been forced to respond, bolstering their own defence budgets and military presence in the region.

The increasing militarization of this volatile and disputed region must be recognized within the international community for what it is — unacceptable. China must cease this hostile and aggressive behaviour and negotiate a diplomatic resolution based on the rule of law.

The Philippines, who claim sovereignty over a portion of the disputed zone and, like China, claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, have taken a principled approach based on the rule of law. In 2013, they filed a claim against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This convention, established in 1982 and which now has 167 party states, acts as the prevailing international treaty in defining the rights and responsibilities of signatories with respect to the oceans, and provides for a binding arbitration process for matters of dispute. The court, in the claims submitted by the Philippines, found that there were grounds to review the case and is set to provide a binding ruling in the coming days.

Whatever this ruling may be, it is imperative that both the Philippines and China respect the court's findings and work bilaterally to resolve the disputed claims. Doing so would provide other involved states an incentive to find resolution in their own overlapping disputes.


That said, China has not participated in the arbitration process and has publicly stated that it will not recognize any ruling of the court. I need not remind you that this will be a ruling that will be provided in accordance with international law, under the prevailing convention governing the seas. The court is mandated to provide settlement arbitration in accordance with the Law of the Sea, a convention that China has signed and ratified.

By failing to participate in the arbitration and refusing to recognize any ruling, China will be acting, in effect, as an international outlaw challenging the rule of law.

It has been said that although the compulsory arbitration process is legally binding, it also lacks an enforcement mechanism. Therefore, it will be essential that whatever the ruling may be, the international community collectively pressure the involved states to abide by the court's decision and resolve outstanding disputes in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. International law must rule supreme.

On an issue of this magnitude, I am certain that China's refusal to respect the ruling will set a very dangerous precedent.

If China's historic claims to the majority of the South China Sea are in fact legitimate — and that's not for me to decide — they should be found to be legitimate under law, and any disputed claims must be settled through the appropriate legal mechanisms in accordance with such laws and conventions.

As I said, it is certainly not for me, nor for Canada, to pass judgment on the legitimacy of China's claims. That is a matter for an international court to decide.

Yet I firmly believe that the construction and militarization of artificial islands within disputed boundaries is an affront to the principles of the laws and ratified treaties that have served to ensure continued peace and security on the sea. Such actions by any of the countries within the disputed boundaries will only serve to erode security and relations in the area, jeopardize international interests and escalate tensions in an area with a history of conflict.

Unfortunately, China's aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea is hardly an isolated example of a troubling trend evident in their diplomatic manner. On several occasions, China has exhibited this troubling behaviour right here in Canada.

A few months ago, I was one of a number of Canadian parliamentarians who attended a function hosted by the Taiwanese at the Château Laurier. We were subsequently attacked in the press by the Chinese ambassador, telling us that we had no business socializing with the Taiwanese.

How dare they tell us whom we can break bread with in our own country.

And a few weeks ago, the Chinese foreign minister stood here in our capital and berated a Canadian reporter for asking a question about human rights. Beside the bullying Chinese officials sat our foreign minister, Mr. Dion. But did Mr. Dion intervene to defend free speech and freedom of the press in Canada? Of course not. He sat there, mute. Colleagues, the old truism and the Latin legal maxim is qui tacet consentire videtur — he who is silent appears to consent. Mr. Dion was complicit in his silence, and his conduct to me as a Canadian was shameful and embarrassing.

Then the next day, the same Chinese official threw a tantrum and demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister, although none was scheduled or necessarily appropriate. The Prime Minister then folded like a cheap lawn chair and gave this bully an audience. Apparently our new "golden age" relationship with China consists of China saying "jump" and the Prime Minister asking "how high?"

And as recently reported by The Globe and Mail, the Chinese government published a lengthy shipping guidebook for the Northwest Passage to aid Chinese cargo vessels in making the treacherous journey in the future. Any such passage, I would argue, would be an affront to Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage and our national sovereignty.

When Canada's Prime Minister publicly states his admiration for China's basic dictatorship, these words are heard in Beijing. It is increasingly evident that our government, faced with China's actions in defiance of international law, is hesitant and simply not willing to take a position besides neutrality. I believe that most Canadians are not as naive as the government when it comes to the realities of the mainland Chinese dictatorship, and I for one believe it is time for Canada to take a stronger position when a foreign state outrightly refuses to recognize the primacy of international convention on a matter such as this.

The rule of law is a founding principle of our great nation, as well as any other free and democratic society, and we must stand up and defend these principles.

It should be clear to all parties that the militarization of artificial islands within a disputed boundary in the South China Sea to the detriment of regional security is unacceptable and not an option. Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam must commit to de-escalating the situation in the region and to finding a peaceful and permanent settlement.

The means for multilateral negotiations have already been established through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' declaration of 2002 to negotiate a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Although there has been a clear failure of member states to negotiate the terms of this code, this motion provides Canada an opportunity to reaffirm the necessity of these negotiations.

Colleagues, I've had the privilege of attending events on behalf of Canada, including several in Asia, in regard to this issue. During a recent visit to Taipei, I spoke to a gathering of the World League for Freedom and Democracy about how Canada is well positioned to articulate and defend these principles that we hold dear.

In conclusion, colleagues, I submit that this motion reflects the principles and values of Canadian society and that we as parliamentarians must promote and uphold such values. Senator Ngo's motion provides the Senate the opportunity to take a leading role in promoting a peaceful, principled resolution to this escalating situation in the South China Sea.

Again, I commend Senator Ngo for bringing this forward, and I encourage my honourable colleagues to support his motion.

(On motion of Senator Cools, debate adjourned.)