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Parallel Measures for Peace and Stability in the South China Sea

2018-04-21 22:39:52       source:NISCSS

Speech of Dr. Wu Shicun

President of National Institute for South China Sea Studies

Chairman of Board of Directors of China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea

 

Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018

Session on 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and Economic Cooperation of the Greater South China Sea

April 11, 2018

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

 

Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to join friends, old and new, in Boao, Hainan. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my observations on two parallel measures for improving the situation in the South China Sea—promoting consultation and negotiation of the code of conduct (COC) and building a stronger economic cooperation framework for the greater South China Sea.

 

As the South China Sea has seen détente, and the peace and stability has largely held over recent years. Against such background, littoral states have shifted their attention from disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction as well as geopolitical competition to the build-up of regional rules and mechanism as well as maritime cooperation. However, issues that could lead to a resumption of regional tensions remain, such as those mentioned above. That is why I would like to propose these two parallel measures of developing regional rules via consultation and negotiation of the COC on the one hand, and building cooperation mechanisms via an economic cooperation framework for the greater South China Sea on the other. These two parallel measures, if implemented successfully, could be a positive driver for the long-term peace of the South China Sea, and the establishment of a China-ASEAN community of shared interests, shared responsibilities and a shared future.

 

Furthering the COC process is the best way available to build a rules-based order in the South China Sea. Since the South China Sea disputes involve competing claims over territorial sovereignty and maritime boundary, which are so sensitive and complicated that they are unlikely to be resolved in the years to come. Thus, it is imperative to have an institutional arrangement acceptable to all parties to maintain regional peace and stability.

 

China and ASEAN countries have formally begun the consultation and negotiation of the COC text this year. Issues like whether or not the COC will be legally binding, the scope of its application, and what would be the nature of the COC, have been key concerns of relevant parties and the international community. Built on the achievement of Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), it is necessary for the COC to have some legally binding force. The purpose of the COC is to provide a maritime crisis management mechanism, should a conflict occur, rather than to address disputes over territory and maritime jurisdiction. However, under the COC framework, the development of functions for settling disputes over fishery and maritime affairs should be considered.

 

In the long run, a rules-based and institutionalized order in the South China Sea serves the interests of all parties, including China. With steady progress in consultation and negotiation, the COC can serve as a crisis prevention and management mechanism long overdue for peace and stability in the South China Sea. It could also provide a foundation for expanding China-ASEAN cooperation on maritime security and enhancing political trust.

 

Building a strong regional cooperation mechanism for the greater South China Sea is a viable way to both compliment the spirit of the COC and to realize common development and prosperity of this region. The South China Sea is an integral part of the Maritime Silk Road. The trend of thriving maritime activity and maritime economy of human society demands closer economic cooperation of the greater South China Sea. An economic cooperation framework of this region could not only meet such needs, but also be a good response to the region’s common wishes of further economic integration, and contribute to the building of a community of a shared future among China and other regional states.

 

To achieve such cooperative framework, an inclusive and step-by-step approach should be adopted to engage South China Sea countries, and countries beyond the region. This process could start with some promising industries and projects in which cooperation has already begun, such as maritime and air connectivity, port economy, maritime tourism, fishery and aquatic farming, and maritime disaster prevention and mitigation. Track-2 or track-1.5 consultation mechanisms could be established, such as an expert forum on the economic cooperation framework of the greater South China Sea. This would provide intellectual support for cooperation and decision-making at the government level. Pilot projects should be established that can deliver concrete benefits for all countries involved, and provide a model for practical cooperation. On the basis of project implementation and demonstration, this vision of an economic cooperation framework of greater South China Sea could be formally put forward at a leaders’ summit or via the ministerial consultation mechanism.

 

The COC negotiation and consultation process illustrates the commitment of all relevant parties to develop a rules-based regional order. Promoting a strong framework for economic cooperation in the greater South China Sea would complement this process and foster closer ties in the region. These two parallel measures would be conducive to building a China-ASEAN community of a shared future and securing the long-term peace and stability of the South China Sea. 


Thank you for your attention. I welcome your questions and comments.