World / Asia-Pacific

Military scholar: 'Low-key' best for South China Sea

By Zhang Yunbi in Singapore ( Updated: 2016-06-06 00:11

A lot can change in three years and that was certainly the case for Major General Yao Yunzhu, a military scholar who saw her role shift on Saturday from a person who asks tough questions at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue to one who answers them.

On Saturday, the Dialogue opened a special session for the first time in connection to the situation in the South China Sea, and Yao, one of the speakers, fielded most of the questions.

The best option for resolving the South China Sea issue is to "downplay its importance" and make it more low-key, she said.

"Hyping the issue frequently leads to great difficulties in settling it," Yao said. "It needs to be laid down for a while, and the room for cooperation will be the greater."

More than a dozen questions came her way, some of them related to laws, including the international maritime law.

Yao, a senior fellow on China-US studies at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, has long studied China-US military interaction and speaks English fluently.

Yao attracted attention at the 2013 Dialogue when she questioned the then Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on the South China Sea situation.

During the past three years, there has been an increased US military presence in the South China Sea and an escalation of tension there.

She observed that many delegates this year have been referring to generic or ambiguous terms, such as "rules", "norms" and "principles" — words that have also been used by senior US officials to describe the maritime issues.

"Such ambiguous and generic things have covered those concrete and where the contradictions really are, making it unlikely for people to check on them in detail," Yao said.

She believes that behind the situation in the South China Sea is the issue of the right to interpretation.

"Many have got used to labeling China. For them, China is naturally the one not abiding by international norms," Yao said.

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