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East Asia nations must change twisted mindset

Publication Date : 28-10-2012


Countries in East Asia should seek win-win cooperation in the spirit of peace and tolerance. This was the message from Liu Zhenmin, permanent representative of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Other International Organisations in Switzerland.

Delivering a speech on East Asia cooperation in Geneva on Wednesday, Liu urged East Asian nations to continue their traditional fruitful interaction, discard the Cold War mentality and work together to shape a common concept of regional security and development. At a time when the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as Senkaku) dispute has strained ties between China and Japan, and countries like the Philippines and Vietnam continue, covertly or overtly, to escalate tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Liu's advice is relevant and constructive.

Growing disputes between East Asian and Southeast Asian countries over territorial waters in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have eroded the mutual political trust between China and some neighbouring countries and are threatening to thwart their efforts to deepen regional cooperation.

This is the time for the Asia-Pacific region as well as the rest of the world to rise up to new and old challenges and, to do so, Asian countries should use their political wisdom to properly handle their disputes and differences and safeguard the fruits of regional cooperation of recent years.

Indeed, countries in the region have come a long way in promoting social and economic development. To take forward their achievements, the countries in the region have to maintain the comparatively peaceful and stable environment that marked the past decades. In fact, regional peace and stability have been the cornerstone of flourishing cooperation among the region's countries in a wide range of fields. Until recently, they were even exploring ways to enhance collaboration in regional security.

Nobody can deny that China's collaboration with Southeast Asian countries in recent years has played a vital role in benefiting the people in the region. But territorial and maritime disputes are threatening to derail that collaboration.

With regional stability and prosperity in mind, Beijing has exercised utmost restraint in territorial disputes with neighbouring countries, and has said time and again that it is willing to work with countries within and outside the region, the United States included, to maintain regional peace and stability.

There has emerged a positive sign, though. At the fourth round of China-US Asia-Pacific Consultations in San Francisco on Tuesday, the two countries agreed to make the East Asia Summit, scheduled for next month in Cambodia, a success. This is very important especially because many disagreements have cropped up at the annual meetings since 2010, which have been detrimental to regional stability.

Initiated in 2005 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the EAS comprises China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and the 10 Asean member states. The US and Russia were invited to attend the 2011 summit in Indonesia.

The EAS is an important platform for discussing global issues that have an impact on the region, but countries like the Philippines and Vietnam have misused it to sow seeds of discord between some Asean members and China over the South China Sea disputes.

To corner Beijing in the maritime disputes, Manila and Hanoi have tried every trick in the trade to enlist the support of countries outside the region, including the US. Deeming to have Washington's support, they have intensified the disputes. If they do not retreat from their positions, they could compromise the stability of the seas and deal a serious blow to the healthy momentum of regional cooperation.

The message of holding a successful EAS that Beijing and Washington have sent from San Francisco this week shows the US still considers its cooperation with China to be much more beneficial than its efforts to contain the second-largest economy.

Hopefully, this will prompt countries like the Philippines not to miscalculate the situation and realise that the US might not be as willing as Manila thinks to get involved in a head-on confrontation with China over the South China Sea disputes.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.


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