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Keep pressure on Beijing to freeze provocations in South China Sea

Publication Date : 13-08-2014

 

Antagonism has become more conspicuous over the South China Sea between China and a group of countries including Japan and the United States.

This could be observed at the recent Asean Regional Forum in Myanmar, where foreign ministers and officials from 27 countries and organizations gathered to discuss security issues. They included Japan, the United States, China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The focal topic at the meeting was South China Sea affairs, including the territorial dispute between China and Vietnam over the Paracel Islands.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called on the countries concerned to put a voluntary freeze on provocative actions. His idea of resolving disputes peacefully through negotiations after easing tensions was supported by the Philippines.

The current regional tensions have been caused by China’s self-righteous actions such as carrying out reclamation work to build facilities and drilling for oil in disputed waters. If such provocative actions are suspended, it would help in making arrangements for negotiations.

Stressing the importance of the principle of “the rule of law,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed opposition to the use of force and coercion as well as the importance for resolving disputes peacefully.

The root cause of the problems was that China has been insisting on territorial rights with no grounds in international law and trying to expand its effective rule with the backing of its military might. Kishida’s statements could be intended to check such movements by China. Assertions similar to Kishida’s have been made successively by the representatives of other countries.

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented a plan to work together with the Asean toward early establishment of a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Shared interests at stake

It is, of course, desirable to work out a code of conduct aimed at ensuring peace and stability in the South China Sea. But it is suspected that China’s real intention could be to eliminate US involvement in the sea while buying time by promoting talks on a code of conduct.

If that is the case, China’s proposal on a code of conduct cannot be endorsed, as freedom of navigation and other interests of the whole international community are at stake.

We should pay heed to China’s increasing moves to divide Asean into pro- and anti-China groups by wielding its economic clout.

China has been providing assistance to Cambodia and Laos in connection with their infrastructure development projects in the Mekong River area. Beijing has also offered an economic cooperation plan to the Thai military regime that took power in a May coup.

It is cause for worry that Thailand has quickly declared its support for a China-led plan to establish an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The joint statement of the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting held ahead of the ARF expressed “serious concern” about the South China Sea issue.

In the process of drafting the statement, Cambodia among others reportedly opposed a Philippine proposal to call for a “freeze on provocative actions.” China’s diplomatic maneuvering has thus had certain results.

To prevent China from forcibly changing the status quo in the South China Sea, Japan and the United States must beef up cooperation with not only Asean member nations but also their neighboring countries such as Australia and India.

 

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