Turn South China Sea dispute into China-Vietnam co-op bonanzaUpdated: 2013-10-13 13:54
HANOI - The symphony of China-Vietnam diplomacy rises to a new crescendo on Sunday as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives here for an official visit to the southern neighbor.
The trip marks the third spell of high-level contact between the two countries so far this year. Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visited China in June, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung traveled to the southern Chinese city of Nanning for the 10th China-ASEAN Expo in early September.
During his stay, the Chinese premier will confer with Vietnamese leaders on further promoting bilateral friendship and cooperation, and the two sides are expected to ink multiple cooperation documents.
The territorial and jurisdictional dispute between the two countries in the South China Sea is, without a shadow of a doubt, among the topics on which Li and his hosts will have in-depth discussions.
It seems to have become a routine that ill-intended or poorly-advised media will grasp every move in China-Vietnam interaction as an opportunity to binge on sensationalization of conflict in the South China Sea. The addiction is both unfortunate and unnecessary.
The two countries did see tension build up and strain bilateral relations in recent years. But thanks to their strategic vision and joint input, that disconcerting page of history has now been turned over.
As tension cooled down, communication has heated up. The meritorious shift is robust evidence that the two neighbors have the wisdom, courage and ability to manage their dispute and prevent them from undermining their overall relations.
Now it is time to make hay. It is heartening and auspicious that China and Vietnam have joined hands to seize the surging momentum and grope for a mutually acceptable path forward.
Beijing's proposal that pending a settlement relevant parties pursue joint development is both strategic and pragmatic, and merits serious and positive response. For all the claimants, their common interests far outweigh their differences. And joint development is the most viable way to turn untapped potential into solid gains.
Through joint development, disputes are more likely to become opportunities, as participants will be able to cement mutual understanding and trust, narrow their differences, and foster a favorable environment for an eventual solution. Riding such a virtuous cycle, the overall cooperation between China and other claimants will enter a new chapter.
Without joint development, however, it would be a long and tortuous process to build up the trust needed to undergird any lasting settlement. The lack of tangibles implies that patience would wear out more quickly and recklessness would rear its head more easily. No one would benefit.
China and Brunei have taken a step forward along the path. In a pioneering move, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Brunei National Petroleum Company Sendirian Berhad have inked a deal on establishing a joint venture on oil field services. Other claimants could follow.
The dispute between China and Vietnam, indeed, is bigger and more complicated. But that is exactly why it is more necessary and crucial for the two countries, both having committed themselves to seeking a peaceful settlement, to take up the magic wand of joint development.
In a promising sign that their pledge to resolve sea-related issues through friendly consultations and advance maritime cooperation step by step is materializing, preliminary cooperation programs are already under way in waters outside the mouth of the Beibu Bay, a semi-enclosed sea whose delimitation remains under negotiation between China and Vietnam.
It is a good start, and they should keep going.