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South China Sea calmer than it appears

(Global Times)    08:33, October 30, 2014
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  Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The eighth Senior Officials' Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea was held in Bangkok from Sunday to Monday, and was attended by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and senior officials from foreign ministries of ASEAN countries. It followed the 12th Joint Working Group Meeting on the DOC.

Over the past year, some overseas media have hyped tensions in the South China Sea, making it seem as if the situation there is on the verge of breaking out into conflict.

The truth is that China, ASEAN and other relevant parties have never stopped their talks and consultations about the South China Sea and have already seen positive results. In this process China has adopted a more flexible attitude toward finding solutions.

China has put forward a "dual-track" approach to resolving the issue. The countries directly concerned will seek a solution by consultations and negotiation. Meanwhile, China and ASEAN countries need to work together to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The overall situation in the South China Sea is not as serious as it looks. There are indeed some frictions between China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines, but the means at their disposal for handling these tensions suggest that no one intends to engage in a military battle.

More importantly, the situation in the South China Sea is stable and peaceful. Statistics from the US Council on Foreign Relations show that cargo worth as much as $5.3 trillion is shipped across the world via the South China Sea each year. Some use this data to underline the harm conflicts could do in the region.

In fact, this huge transport volume indicates that the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea has suffered no harm whatsoever.

According to a 2013 report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the growth of global maritime transport comes from three aspects: huge demand from the Chinese market, trade within Asia and trade among developing countries.

Currently, maritime cargoes loaded in Asian ports account for 39 percent of the world's total, and for 57 percent of unloaded cargoes. Such busy and dynamic shipping wouldn't be possible without stability and security in the South China Sea.

The maritime transport in the South China Sea constitutes a general context for regional cooperation and common development. Observing the South China Sea out of context will lead to self-inflicted tensions.

Viewed in its proper context, resolving the South China Sea issue can be achieved through negotiations by countries involved and should be included in the regional framework of mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation. China's advocacy of a "dual-track" approach considers advancing both.

Properly resolving the South China Sea issue is necessary for further development of regional cooperation and also an important step in reshaping Asia's security order.

Such a step will lay a sound foundation for Asia's future development.

The maritime transport in the South China Sea involves US interests, but Washington can only provide suggestions instead of making rules. It's up to the concerted efforts of countries in the region to establish rules.

As per the US "pivot to Asia" strategy, US troops deployed in the region will make up at least half of its total overseas deployment in the future. This may help protect the interests of the US and its allies, but it delivers a negative message to China because the US order that seeks balance through military alliance and targets at equable power can't adapt to Asia's development. On the contrary it may cause splits and confrontation in Asia.

Building a new security order in Asia doesn't mean that the US will be excluded from the region or that China will work out a new order to confront a US one.

It takes long-term efforts to build a new order. The ongoing efforts of China and ASEAN countries show that this order is certainly not a balancing system led by a hegemon.

It's foreseeable that the two orders will fiercely contest in Asia's future development.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Brazil. [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina

(Editor:Ma Xiaochun、Bianji)
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