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China needs "Road Map" in South China Sea

21:20, July 30, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

China and the U.S. saw a barrage of rhetorical exchanges last week in Hanoi, Vietnam, which convened foreign ministers from the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, South Korea) at a sensitive time, just days before the joint U.S.-South Korea naval drills unfolded in the Sea of Japan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the South China Sea issue "a leading diplomatic priority." Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi subsequently called her comments "virtually an attack on China" and said U.S. involvement "can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve."

Clinton enraged the Chinese by her inappropriate remarks on the sovereignty issues related to the South China Sea, which is widely taken by the Chinese as a behavior blatantly meddling in China's "backyard" affairs. Admittedly, some countries in Southeast Asia intended to borrow Uncle Sam's hands to counterbalance China's growing clout in the region.

It remains a noteworthy but still thorny problem that China cannot devise effective ways to disarm its panicking neighbors or at least to dispel their undue worries about China, a giant nation on its steady rise.

As China rises rapidly in terms of regional and global clout, any discussion on the Asean future course of action, whatever it is or may be, would no longer find uniformity. However, China intensely opposes the U.S. and some neighboring countries' attempt to "internationalize" the South China Sea issue and will resolve differences through friendly negotiation.

The disputes centered around the South China Sea, covering 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) stretching from Singapore to the Straits of Taiwan, are overlapping in certain areas and could become more complicated than ever, when China is growing to be the region's leading power, and when emboldened by the U.S., some Southeast Asian nations are blowing out proportion the regional issue, which would jeopardize the status quo built upon peaceful coexistence. This is somewhat a hazardous move, as in the end they will just draw fire against themselves with the super US standing by, and waiting to reap the profits from their infightings.

The blueprint defined by the Chinese late leader Deng Xiaoping calls for the disputing parties to "brush aside disputes, and jointly develop" the disputed waters, but with time, the guiding principle seems to get blurred and thereby inconclusive. Consequently, all the parties involved cannot substantively set aside disputes, nor are they bent on the joint development in all sincerity. Even worse, some used-to-be brotherly neighbors begin cast their doubts upon China, presuming China's call to brush aside disputes is nothing but its stalling tactics, and in so doing China will get a breathing chance in order to settle the disputes once for all, by military force.

The U.S. poses its nose into Southeast Asia just in time. Darts hidden in its sleeves, the U.S. is trying to coerce the ASEAN countries to act as a whole in confronting China and trying to squeeze China's presence, already overwhelming as it sees, out of the region.

On the other hand, exercising forbearance time and again and for a long term has in essence weakened China's indisputable sovereignty claim over the South China Sea.

Facing the roaring waters, China will have to as soon as possible seek a breakthrough to maintain its bottom line interests. Perhaps, China should more resolutely push forward the principle of "joint development", and more important, draw up a clear-cut "road map" to carry it out.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."