Policy insiders keen to avoid conflicts on the seas

Updated: 2015-10-18 22:08

By ZHANG YUNBI(chinadaily.com.cn)

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A senior Malaysian military officer has warned against "the worst-case scenario" in the South China Sea, in which a major military conflict breaks out amid interference from non-regional countries.

"We must never allow any military conflict (to take place) in the region... Because it will bring other players into the fray," said Malaysian Chief of Defense Forces Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin at the Xiangshan Forum on Sunday.

At a plenary session focusing on Asia-Pacific maritime security, senior defense officials and specialists from the region called for prioritizing cooperation when distrust and lingering tension cloud some parts of the region.

The Malaysian defense chief referred to statistics which show that in 2014 around 80,000 ships went through the Strait of Malacca, a critical shipping route in the region, and corporate activities in the region have amounted to $7 trillion in value.

He said: "Because once it (conflict) happens, it is very difficult for us to stop it, and there will be a lot of damage, destruction, especially toward other states within the region, which are not part of the conflict."

He suggested regional stakeholders "keep the door for talks open" because "cooperation results in a win-win outcome".

Wu Jianmin, from the Foreign Policy Advisory Group at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, echoed that view and called on "all countries in the region to play their role" in preventing the worst-case scenario from happening.

Timor-Leste Minister of Defense Cirilo José Jacob Valadares Cristovao noted that his country stands at a place where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet, an area of important shipping routes.

It is the hope of "most Asia-Pacific countries" to establish a security framework through cooperation, Cristovao said.

Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi noted that regional countries are dependent upon the maritime routes for trade, while security threats and environmental impacts have made the countries on the routes more vulnerable.

Yet island countries and small countries in the region are often neglected by international discussions over the Asia-Pacific region, especially when it comes to regional security, Hettiarachchi said.

Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations under Tsinghua University, suggested that "cooperation could even be started when trust is absent" in some parts of the region.

"Don’t make the absence of trust an excuse for no cooperation... We could embark on preventive cooperation first," he said, referring to a paradigm in which relevant countries prevent conflict from taking place between them.

Preventive cooperation between China and the US has turned out a success, such as their collaboration in regulating airspace encounters and boosting communication on the seas, Yan noted.

Such cooperation could also be expanded from a bilateral context to multilateral one, and it could expand its realm from the contracting parties to outsiders, Yan suggested.