Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Calmer sea will benefit all

By Chen Qinghong and Song Yinghui (China Daily) Updated: 2011-09-07 07:52

Gradual and practical approach to maritime disputes through cooperation and agreement will ensure regional prosperity

Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III completed a state visit to China last week. It was a milestone visit in the development of China-Philippines bilateral relations, and the joint statement issued by both sides projected a bright future for the stable development of the strategic cooperative relationship in the long term.

The two countries agreed a five-year (2012-2016) development program for trade and economic cooperation that will serve as the roadmap for further progress, with the target of enlarging bilateral trade to $60 billion by 2016.

As for maritime disputes, the two leaders reiterated their commitment to addressing the disputes through peaceful dialogue, maintaining continued regional peace, security and stability and an environment conducive to economic progress. Both leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and the ASEAN member countries in 2002.

The fruitful visit represents a new start for the development of the China-Philippines relationship and there will be even more cooperation opportunities in the coming years, including cooperation on the South China Sea issue.

The South China Sea dispute often draws the most attention, and friction over the issue is indeed an impediment to the development of the China-Philippines relationship. In the early part of this year, the two countries were involved in verbal sparring over the issue, which is one of the reasons why President Aquino's visit to China attracted attention both at home and abroad.

In fact, to Asian thinking, zero-sum games, even territorial and sovereignty disputes will not result in conflict necessarily. Chinese wisdom says "Qiong ze bian, bian ze tong, tong ze jiu", which means that you will consider change when you come to a dead end, and changes will lead to a new situation where there may be solutions, and changing when necessary will make the peace and development permanent. Ying peng ying, to confront toughness with toughness, is not a good solution when there is danger that a dispute could become a conflict.

This is different from the West, which follows Thucydides assertion that the strong get what they want and the weak have to accept what they get, which is not the tradition and practice when Asians deal with international relations as history shows solutions imposed by force are only temporary.

However, it would be a mistake to believe that the South China Sea issue will disappear when trade and economic cooperation improves. While economic cooperation will stimulate the mutual development of the two countries' economies, it will not solve the maritime dispute. But to resist economic cooperation because of the unsolved maritime issue would be another mistake. Rather the smooth development of bilateral economic ties will contribute to the construction of mutual confidence, which can create a good atmosphere for discussions on the South China Sea issue.

It is to the common benefit of China, the Philippines and the whole region to keep the peace and stability in the South China Sea. This century is not the United States' century, nor China's century, but Asia's century.

In 2010, most countries in East Asia recovered from the global crisis and gross domestic product growth rate of Asian countries last year was enviable: Vietnam's economy increased 6.7 percent, Malaysia 7.2 percent, the Philippines 7.3 percent and China 10.3 percent. At present, Asia is entering a historically favorable stage for fast and stable common development, and any attempt to harm this momentum is unacceptable and irresponsible.

A peaceful and gradual solution to the South China Sea issue is the best choice for all. At the moment, the claims of different countries are the core of the dispute. The claimant countries should seek common ground while shelving differences and promoting practical cooperation. The crux of the issue is to reach a consensus that maintaining a peaceful and stable South China Sea is of the utmost importance.

It should be pointed out that the South China Sea issue is not as simple as a scramble for resources, but a complex problem related to maritime scientific research, environmental protection, tsunami prediction, cross-border crime fighting, among other things. The countries involved should deepen their mutual confidence through cooperation in non-sensitive fields and gradually come to an arrangement to every country's satisfaction. This is how the region can maintain peace and stability, and countries in the region enjoy a favorable environment for common progress and prosperity.

The authors are researchers with the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily 09/07/2011 page10)

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