Op-Ed Contributors

Dialogue key to peace

By Song Qingrun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-15 08:12
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China adheres to peaceful foreign policy and participates in defense meeting with a pragmatic and cooperative attitude.

The first ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) is expected to help strengthen security and defense cooperation in East Asia and contribute to regional peace and stability.

The meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday brought together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its eight Dialogue Partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. It is a concrete step toward crystallizing the decision by the bloc's defense ministers' meeting in May, to resolve the problem of the long-standing lack of a defense ministerial-level security dialogue mechanism in politically diversified East Asia.

Unlike previous ASEAN regional forums that were dominated by economic and political issues, the first ADMM-Plus is dominated by security issues. Its attendees are mainly defense ministers and military officials without foreign ministers and scholars. The joint declaration signed by participating countries and the pragmatic approach shown by them to promote bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation will surely serve as a milestone toward the construction of a common security mechanism in this region.

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As a key player in maintaining regional peace and security, China has consistently made unremitting efforts toward this purpose and also received a high degree of attention at the Hanoi gathering because of a series of events that recently occurred in this region.

Due to the rapid rise of its national strength, which is in sharp contrast with the comparative decline of Western countries, China's normal diplomatic moves to safeguard its national interests have been misinterpreted by some as its "more aggressive than before" attitude in dealing with other countries. A moderate increase in the country's military spending, together with its ever-expanding economic bulk, has again re-ignited the once-latent "China threat" tone.

As the result of growing misgivings among some neighboring nations toward China and the US' strengthened precautions against it, a string of joint military exercises were organized by Washington and its Asian allies over the past months across the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan to the South China Sea and Southeast Asia.

At the foreign ministers' meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in July, the US and Vietnam did not conceal their attempt to make the South China Sea issue - a regional issue - into an international one.

All these, together with Japan's recent illegal detention of a Chinese fishing boat in the waters off China's Diaoyu Islands and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' recent antagonistic remarks against China on sovereign disputes involving the South China Sea issue, have put China in an unprecedented, severe security situation.

Facing such an adverse security environment, China still adheres to its long-cherished peaceful foreign policy. It chose to participate in the ADMM-Plus in a pragmatic and cooperative manner. In fact, China had already extended its support to the Hanoi meeting and offered help to the host nation toward the success of the event. China also reaffirmed its clear stance of backing ASEAN taking initiatives to promote regional security cooperation - a stance that received positive response from Vietnam, which takes over the rotating presidency of the regional grouping. This has helped create a good atmosphere for Premier Wen Jiabao's participation in a series of summit meetings due to be held between ASEAN and relevant countries in Vietnam at the end of October.

To promote pragmatic cooperation on regional security, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie also chose to shelve disputes with his US, Vietnamese and Japanese counterparts at the ADMM-Plus on the issues of the South China Sea, East China Sea and Diaoyu Islands. This fully demonstrated the country's desire to seek cooperation with other regional members in promoting regional security and maintaining regional peace and stability.

With its concrete action, China has demonstrated to neighbors that it neither threatens their security nor challenges regional security. China's goodwill actions have won positive reactions from the US and helped the two countries reach consensus on a two-day dialogue between their military officials on maritime safety and communications as well as a deputy defense ministerial-level dialogue due to be held in Washington later in the year. Gates is also scheduled to visit China in early 2011 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie. The British Broadcasting Corporation commented that Gates' scheduled visit is a sign of Washington's efforts to seek improvement in ties with Beijing.

With the wish to undertake deserved responsibilities for regional security, the Chinese defense minister once again expounded China's defense policies and reaffirmed its long-advocated proposals on promoting regional security cooperation. China proposes to enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust among regional countries to consolidate the political foundation for regional security cooperation. That cooperation should also be strengthened in the non-traditional security scope to cope with new security issues.

China also stands by the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference into other countries' internal affairs to build a reasonable regional security framework.

The country has also made its position clear - that it is in favor of the ASEAN-dominant regional security mechanism in the efforts for regional peace and security. Such a stance will help ease misgivings among some countries that China intends to play a leading role in East Asia's security affairs and even seek hegemony.

The author is an assistant researcher with the Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily 10/15/2010 page8)