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Observer: Countries in South China Sea should consciously resist bloc confrontation

2023-11-30 10:15:45       source:NISCSS

November 29, 2023

The concept of a community with a shared future for the oceans proposed by President Xi Jinping has pointed out the way forward for global ocean governance. Defending maritime peace, protecting the marine environment, and promoting maritime prosperity require comprehensive policies and promotion of cooperation, especially the use of international law to properly handle international maritime disputes. China has always maintained that disputes should be resolved peacefully through friendly consultations by the countries directly concerned.


Among the maritime governance issues surrounding China, the South China Sea is unique and complex. It is essentially maritime disputes left over from history but to a large extent involves geopolitical competition between major powers. Against this backdrop, while the overall management of the dispute has been relatively effective, occasional disagreements and frictions occur, highlighting the complexity and fragility of the situation.


As is well known, the South China Sea is one of the most important and busiest waterways in the world, with intensive shipping activities. Fifty percent of the world's merchant ships pass through here, accounting for one-third of the world's maritime trade.


Over the past two decades, the mechanisms under the framework of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN countries have achieved fruitful results in maritime governance and cooperation. These mechanisms also provide broad space for China and relevant parties to effectively manage differences and properly resolve the South China Sea issues through diplomacy.


Through the DOC, China and ASEAN countries are committed to upholding freedom of navigation as granted by international law. Regardless of changes in the regional situation, normal international commercial navigation has never been hindered in the South China Sea. This is one of the important indicators for the international community's assessment of the situation in the South China Sea.


China and ASEAN countries in the DOC have reaffirmed the United Nations Charter and the principles of international law, insisted on deepening mutual trust through dialogue and cooperation, and reached a consensus on resolving disputes through direct negotiations and consultations among the parties involved. Over the past two decades, escalating disputes have been effectively contained, preventing military conflicts in the South China Sea.


Considering the situation in the South China Sea and maritime trends, certain parties involved in disputes should realize that the trust built through joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries is extremely precious. Only through comprehensive, effective, complete and faithful implementation of the declaration can political trust continue to accumulate, ensuring regional peace and stability.


In this sense, countries in the region should jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea and should not take unilateral actions to aggravate conflicts. Countries outside the region should earnestly respect the consensus and measures taken by regional countries to maintain peace and should not run counter to them. The international community should support all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.


In recent years, external uncertainties affecting the situation in the South China Sea have become more obvious, mainly due to the involvement of external forces, notably the United States. A Cold War mentality have cast a lingering shadow of confrontation on the order of the South China Sea. Maritime disagreements between China and the US serve as the most likely catalyst for inadvertent clashes and confrontations.


In the long term, the common goals for China and the US remain crisis management, preventing miscalculation and avoiding conflicts. Transforming this shared objective into actions that build a regional security framework requires addressing a crucial issue: the relationship between the military alliance system formed by the US during the Cold War and the complex security maritime needs of the Asia-Pacific region.


In short, it is about establishing inclusive mechanisms and arrangements under the new situation and taking into account the legitimate and reasonable security concerns of relevant countries. The core is how the US correctly understands and accepts China, how it treats China's legitimate rights and interests and reasonable demands, and gradually finds the balance that both parties can accept or tolerate in their interactions.


There are some positive developments in China-US relations at present. The first round of consultations on maritime affairs between China and the US was held in Beijing on November 3, with both sides emphasizing the need to promote dialogue and communication, manage and control maritime situations, avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation, and explore mutually beneficial cooperation. Handled properly, ocean governance issues can serve as a stabilizer and buffer zone in bilateral relations.

Ding Duo is deputy director and associate research fellow, the Research Center for Ocean Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.