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ASEAN should stick to mediating role

(Global Times)

08:39, July 10, 2012

The 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting is convening in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Philippines and Vietnam are attempting to put the South China Sea issue on the table.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in the meeting amid intensive visits to three ASEAN countries. It is unlikely that Secretary Clinton will distance herself from conflicts between ASEAN countries and China.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are originally bilateral conflicts between China and countries including Vietnam and the Philippines. The aim of making it an international issue has overlapping interests with the US. Now the issue is developing toward that direction.

Nevertheless, China does not need to fret over it. The bilateral approach advocated by China hasn't prevailed yet, but the multilateral approach will not boost the legitimacy of the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines.

ASEAN can only play a role in mediating, and never dictate affairs concerning territorial demarcation. As long as ASEAN remains rational, it will not accept Vietnam and the Philippines' request.

The South China Sea issue would be much worse than today if it hadn't been for China's restraint. But it would be extremely naïve of Manila and Hanoi to press China to hold back more.

Public opinion in China is already on the brink of boiling over. Further provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines would mean direct confrontation with China's angry public.

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