British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called for resolving territorial disputes in the South and East China Sea by focusing on arbitration rules, not the power of individual countries on 12 August, as a way to help end tensions in the region that have persisted since the end of World War Two.
Hammond, who made the comments while addressing students at Beijing's elite Peking university, is in China as part of a tour of east Asia that also included South Korea and Japan. Drawing comparisons with the recent European 70th anniversary celebrations, and those planned by Beijing in early September, Hammond said that much still needed to be done to bring reconciliation to the region.
"As we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of the world war in this continent and remember the terrible destruction and human suffering that conflict inflicted on the region, we need to reflect on the fact that unlike in western Europe, the process of reconciliation is not yet complete here, that territorial disputes remain unresolved and that mutual confidence and trust still needs to be built," he said.
Hammond said he believed a rules-based approach whereby countries deal with grievances via international bodies such as the United Nations were crucial to solving issues of sovereignty in a peaceful manner.
"We want to see claims dealt with by rules-based not power-based solutions in Asia as elsewhere, in a way which is consistent with the long term peace and stability of the region, with freedom of navigation and overflight and in accordance with international law," he said, adding that for a rules-based system to have credibility, all countries, including China had to participate.
"A rules-based system only has credibility if it's applied in every case, not if it's applied selectively. I hope we'll help the debate in a positive direction. I think there is hope that we can get these disputes resolved through political dialogue as Chinese leaders themselves have said must be the way forward," he added.
Hammond also denied that Britain had in recent years taken a soft approach to China, maintaining that the UK was not afraid to criticise Beijing on issues such as human rights.