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First shooting Lowest-hanging target

16:39, July 08, 2011

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By Li Hongmei

An overall analysis of the currently burning South China Sea can see a general divide of, to put it briefly, big and minor issues:

First, the area covering more than 648,000 sq miles (1.7 million sq km), containing more than 200 mostly uninhabitable small islands, rocks and reefs is a vast reach of water, with six major players on its rim embroiled in disputes for decades. But compared to the global strategy of peace and development, it is still a small case.

Second, the ongoing and escalating islands dispute is still trivial if measured by the regional shared interests. Considering that the fallout of the constant tussles between the concerned countries would send a backlash to the world's most dynamic region and hinder its progress, the countries involved in the disputes should keep cool and move cautiously and wisely.

Even if a misstep were taken, say, if the decision were kidnapped by the runaway nationalism and radical public emotions, the future of the Asia-Pacific region as a whole would be held hostage.

Third, the sea also serves as the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, with some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe's oil tanker traffic passes through it. Most shipping is of raw materials, such as crude oil from the Gulf to East Asian countries.

More significantly, the sea holds valuable fishing grounds, and as-yet largely unexploited oil and natural gas fields, which is the root cause of the unstoppable disputes.

Given all this, China has charted a roadmap for a peaceful settlement of the thorny issue---From easy to difficult, much the way when you are facing a towering tree laden with fruit, you first should pick the lowing-hanging ones before climbing up to get those beyond the reach. Likewise, to tackle the South China Sea conflict, the concerned parties should first fix their eyes on the easiest targets and get down to what they are commonly willing to do.

On the Chinese side, it will have to cultivate a mature mindset and sharpen its diplomatic skills, which is desirable not only to match its ever growing national strength, but also help remove suspiciousness and worries of its neighbors.

Meanwhile, China also needs some patience in listening to others' grievances, while elaborating on its own stance. Perhaps, it is not that easy to convince others that China will never turn out a bullying giant, as the explanation involves not merely sound communicative skills, but more concrete proofs showcasing what China's sovereignty really means and is all based on the International Law. This calls for much more detailed legal and technical work before just claiming sovereignty over the sea.

On the flip side, the countries bickering with China at the time are required to cool their public ire and avoid escalating tensions and festering the already volatile situation.

Recently, China and Vietnam pledged to solve the dispute through peaceful negotiations amid the flared tension, even when China remains wary of the United States, on whom its neighbors have pinned their hope for confidence and assistance, becoming more deeply involved in the dispute.

The Vietnamese news agency quotes Chinese Ambassador Sun Guoxiang as saying that his country attaches importance to the traditional friendship with Vietnam and that it commits itself with the Vietnamese side to strengthen solidarity, cooperation and mutual support.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario arrived in China for bilateral negotiations with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, on Friday, to lessen the brewing tension over the South China Sea and to pave the way for President Benigno Aquino's Beijing visit in August.

Before his departure for China, Albert del Rosario had said he took the visit as an opportunity to reaffirm good ties with China.

"I believe that the relationship is healthy," del Rosario said, "and that if there are challenges in the Spratlys (Nanshas) or in the South China Sea, we should abstract that challenge at this time and deal with it separately and not have it adversely affect our relations."

China, on the other hand, should resort to its soft power getting more vocal and visible on the global stage, which requires an increasing number of Chinese officials, experts and scholars to give a clear explanation of China's stance and views in the way informative and understandable to others.

China is supposed to be confident in the basic point that if its growth rate couldn't keep the level of 9-10%, the countries now in squabbles with it, as well as the entire region, would be adversely affected. If so, it would be a dim prospect for all.

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."