Do not let S China Sea issue undermine China-ASEAN ties

09:27, July 23, 2011      

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High ranking officials from China and ASEAN member countries reached consensus on the guideline and text of the "Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea" on July 20, which is regarded as a milestone for promoting peace in the region and enhancing China-ASEAN cooperation.

The declaration was signed by China and ASEAN member countries in November 2002. China has been strictly following it in recent years and kept a sound momentum of negotiation with ASEAN countries in implementing it. The consensus reached this time aims to boost pragmatic cooperation and enlarge the areas of cooperation from three to six. The move clearly demonstrates most of the ASEAN countries, which are like China, are in favor of enhancing active collaboration.

The issue of South China Sea is not among the top priorities on the agenda of China-ASEAN development. It has heated up recently because some countries attempted to set their self interests up over those of other countries, and external forces took the opportunity to meddle in.

In fact, much work needs to be done to follow up in the process of ASEAN's internal restructuring and growth, the development of China-ASEAN Free Trade Area as well as the development of ASEAN plus China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (10+3). The South China Sea issue can only be solved through overall promotion of China-ASEAN relations, particularly the favorable conditions that all sides jointly develop.

ASEAN has made it clear it would establish a common market by 2015. It is the organization's top priority to work out a way to boost construction of this market with the help of China-Japan-ROK cooperation. It must answer question such as how to improve the infrastructure construction in ASEAN member countries with the China-Japan-ROK strength. How can these nations coordinate and consolidate the customs and transportation regulations in the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and bring regional trade to the next stage?

At present, ASEAN needs to enhance further integration in terms of politics, economy and diplomacy, and clear the barriers in the integration process. It is unrealistic to hope for strengthening internal integration and raising ASEAN's voice in the international arena by making use of the fact that the South China Sea issue has become more and more international. Such a move can only fuel the argument further and even jeopardize the original goal of the ASEAN market. An article carried on The Jakarta Global recently said that such a row could damage the interests of all the countries in the region.

The current status of ASEAN is closely associated with its rapid economic development over the past two years. It also becomes more and more attractive as its global market share increases. ASEAN member countries should realize that this is what the real intention of the United States in returning to the Asia-Pacific region: following economic interests. The United States will make use of the historic equilibrium to seek self interest. But in the final analysis, the development of U.S.-ASEAN ties will rely on input rather than output.

The importance of geopolitics and resources in South China Sea is becoming more and more prominent. Some countries are eager to seek interest by nibbling and grabbing. Some external forces also have their hand in to reap unfair gains. China and ASEAN should remain on high alert against this phenomenon and not let the issue undermine China-ASEAN relations that are progressing well.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of China-ASEAN dialogue and partner relationship. Bilateral ties have enjoyed rapid development. Particularly since the establishment of free trade area, the economic and trade ties have experienced swift expansion. It would be harmful for the peaceful development in Asia-Pacific region if we let South China Sea issue obstruct the sound momentum and jeopardize China-ASEAN interest.

We must adhere to the policy of peace rather than war, cooperation rather than confrontation, stability rather than turbulence and make concerted efforts to realize peace, friendship and cooperation in South China Sea.

The author is People's Daily senior editor Ding Gang and the article is translated by People's Daily Online editor Zhang Xinyi
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