Do not let US stoke disputes

Updated: 2014-08-12 09:12

By Zhao Minghao (China Daily)

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South China Sea issues and thoughtless moves of some countries should not hinder ASEAN's continued exchanges with Beijing

The annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting was held recently in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, with the disputes and situation in the South China Sea on the agenda.

This is not the first time that the ARF has touched upon the South China Sea disputes. In July 2010, at the ARF Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Hanoi, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the disputes were concerned with the United States' national interests and solving them in line with international laws would be the key to regional stability. Her speech was considered to mark a new twist of US policy line vis-à-vis the South China Sea disputes.

The disputes have since then become a key part of the implementation of the US' "pivot to Asia" policy, as well as an increasingly thorny issue in China-US exchanges. Especially so since China operated an oil rig near the Xisha Islands in April, which many US observers believed was part of China's speeding up of its "salami slicing" strategy and called for a response to it.

Before the current ARF Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the US and its allies made multiple moves. In July, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel advised a "freeze" on actions aggravating disputes in the South China Sea, namely that related parties stop occupying more islands or reefs and establishing outposts, avoid changing landforms and do not take unilateral actions against any other country. While on the surface this initiative might reasonably opt for peace, but in the eyes of Beijing at least, it would actually legalize certain nations' illegal occupying of islands and reefs in the South China Sea in past decades, as well as bestow on the US the status of "arbiter".

The Philippines echoed the US' initiative by claiming it would propose a three-step process to the ARF, namely suspending all actions, setting up a code of conduct among involved parties and solving disputes through international arbitration. Both initiatives seemed to gain support from several nations, and, as Washington and Manila expected, China would face the most coordinated pressure at the ARF.

The US is also trying to improve the binding effect and enforcement mechanism of international arbitration. For example, whether a nation accepts arbitration of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea can be taken as the prerequisite of participating in multinational military exercises or the Arctic Council. The US can also consider strengthening economic pressure on the involved Chinese SOEs like China National Offshore Oil Corp, which is reported to build floating liquefied natural gas carriers and explore underwater gas.

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