Use ‘quiet diplo­macy’ to re­solve sea is­sue

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The South China Sea is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world used by China, Ja­pan, the Repub­lic of Korea and many other coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, and keep­ing it open is in the best in­ter­est of all. The ship­ping lane has never suf­fered dis­rup­tions de­spite the dis­putes among var­i­ous coun­tries over is­lands, reefs, and mar­itime rights and in­ter­ests.

Still, the US has a fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ment with China over free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion. And the real rea­son for dis­agree­ment is the pro­tracted close-range mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance and other oper­a­tions by the US. Since US ac­tions en­dan­ger China’s na­tional se­cu­rity, the lat­ter is nat­u­rally op­posed to them. Late last month, the US fur­ther in­ten­si­fied the dis­agree­ment over free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion by send­ing its war­ship to pa­trol the wa­ters near the is­lands where China has car­ried out recla­ma­tion work.

On the han­dling of South China Sea-re­lated is­sues, the White­House, the US Depart­ment of State and the Depart­ment of De­fense have some dif­fer­ing views. But the views of the De­fense Depart­ment and the US Pa­cific Com­mand seem the tough­est.

Their bel­liger­ent views could be a sym­bolic stance to sat­isfy China bash­ers and get more bud­getary funds. Or, they could sig­nify their in­ten­tion of turn­ing the mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the South China Sea into a reg­u­lar af­fair, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing their scale and in­ten­sity. Al­though both pos­si­bil­i­ties are provoca­tive, the lat­ter will greatly in­crease the risks of China-US fric­tions in the South China Sea. So, while wait­ing to see what ex­actly the US is af­ter, China must pre­pare for a long-term strug­gle in case the US pur­sues the sec­ond path.

Com­pli­ance or non-com­pli­ance with the UN Con­ven­tion on the La­wof the Sea aside, the en­try of the US war­ship into the wa­ters near China’s is­lands sends a strong neg­a­tive sig­nal: that the US con­sid­ers China an ad­ver­sary or even a po­ten­tial enemy.

The dis­putes in the South China Sea are rather com­pli­cated. China has dis­putes over is­lands, reefs and/or mar­itime rights and in­ter­ests with five South­east Asian coun­tries (with In­done­sia, it only has a dis­pute over mar­itime rights or in­ter­ests). Given the sit­u­a­tion, China has not set its ter­ri­to­rial sea base points or drawn the base­line for is­lands and reefs in the South China Sea; they re­main am­bigu­ous to a cer­tain ex­tent. This shows China has been ex­er­cis­ing ut­most re­straint and sin­cerely hopes to re­solve the dis­putes through peace­ful di­a­logue.

On the other hand, how­ever, the ba­sic mean­ing of the nine-dash line is clear, as China has been re­it­er­at­ing. First, within the nine-dash line, China has in­dis­putable sovereignty over the Nan­sha Is­lands and its sur­round­ing sea. Sec­ond, China is en­ti­tled to the mar­itime rights and in­ter­ests stated in the UNCLOS. Third, China has cer­tain his­tor­i­cal rights over the wa­ters in the South China Sea. And fourth, the sea-lane within the nine-dash line has not been clocked and is com­pletely free.

Dur­ing his state visit to the US, Pres­i­dent Xi made it clear that con­struc­tion work on Nan­sha Is­lands is not tar­geted against or meant to in­flu­ence any coun­try, and that China has no in­ten­tion of mil­i­ta­riz­ing the is­lands.

In short, China’s pol­icy is to firmly safe­guard its ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty and to main­tain peace and sta­bil­ity in the South China Sea. It is ready to co­op­er­ate with other coun­tries by shelv­ing the dis­putes and en­gag­ing in joint de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, in or­der to ul­ti­mately re­solve the dis­putes through peace­ful di­a­logue and turn the South China Sea into a “sea of peace, co­op­er­a­tion and friend­ship”.

But ig­nor­ing China’s prom­ises, the US has been con­sol­i­dat­ing its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the South China Sea by con­tin­u­ing close-range mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance against China, in­ter­fer­ing in the re­gional mar­itime dis­putes, sell­ing weapons to Viet­nam and other coun­tries, strength­en­ing its mil­i­tary al­liances in the re­gion and re­gain­ing its hold over mil­i­tary bases in the Philip­pines, and call­ing for joint pa­trols with Ja­pan and other al­lies from out­side South­east Asia.

By send­ing guided-mis­sile de­stroyer USS Lassen to pa­trol the wa­ters near China’s is­lands, the US seems to in­di­cate that it is ready for a direct mil­i­tary con­flict or con­fronta­tion with China. In a clas­sic case of the pot call­ing the ket­tle black, how­ever, it has ac­cused China of in­ter­fer­ing in its ex­er­cise of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and “mil­i­ta­riz­ing” the re­gion by car­ry­ing out con­struc­tion work on its is­lands.

China and the US in­deed have se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences on the South China Sea is­sue. But they should be ad­dressed through di­a­logue, not through an armed con­flict. Given the emerg­ing risks, there­fore, the two coun­tries need to use “quiet diplo­macy” rather than tak­ing ac­tions that could worsen the sit­u­a­tion.

The au­thor is the di­rec­tor of re­search and se­nior fel­low at the China Foun­da­tion for In­ter­na­tional Strate­gic Stud­ies. Cour­tesy: China &US Fo­cus

Worse, in­creas­ingly loud crit­i­cism sin­gling out the slow­down in China as the main cul­prit be­hind slower global growth is blind­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to the loom­ing un­cer­tain­ties that the re­peat­edly de­layed but even­tual hike in US in­ter­est rates will cause around the globe.

In spite of the ob­vi­ous ne­ces­sity and the long-term ben­e­fit of China’s ef­forts to re­bal­ance its econ­omy from man­u­fac­tur­ing and ex­ports to ser­vices and consumption, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment in­den­ti­fied the emerg­ing mar­ket’s slow­down and drop in trade as the main fac­tors cloud­ing the global out­look in its lat­est twice-yearly Eco­nomic Out­look.

Moody’s lat­est Glob­alMacro Out­look re­port also pointed out this week that the main risks to the eco­nomic out­look stem from a big­ger than ex­pected global fallout from the Chi­nese slow­down and a larger im­pact from tighter ex­ter­nal and do­mes­tic fi­nanc­ing con­di­tions in other emerg­ing mar­kets.

The slug­gishChi­nese growth fig­ures are shak­ing global stock­mar­kets as fre­quently, if not more, thanUS rate hike fears. But such wor­ries are largely mis­guided, for it sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­es­ti­mates both the large con­tri­bu­tion thatChina is still­mak­ingto the global growthandthe huge un­der­ly­ing growth po­ten­tialChina’s on­go­ing struc­tural re­forms will release.

So while greater am­bi­tion by G20 coun­tries in sup­port­ing de­mand and pur­su­ing struc­tural re­forms to boost po­ten­tial growth will be much needed, in­ter­na­tional cau­tion against the con­se­quence of too much cheap mon­ey­may be even more ur­gent.

On one hand, the cur­rent eco­nomic woes of many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have a lot to do with the flow of in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal which is largely be­yond their con­trol but heav­ily in­flu­enced by ma­jor de­vel­oped coun­tries’ zero in­ter­est rate poli­cies.

On­the other hand, if­bankers’ greed for prof­it­sand­bonus is­blamedas akey cause of the 2007 to2009­fi­nan­cial cri­sis, cen­tral­bankers will be held ac­count­able for the cur­rent over­sup­ply of cheap­money that­may seed dan­ger­ous global as­set bub­bles that the world’s largest banks can hardly with­stand what­ever the buf­fer.

Inthis sense, theG20lead­ers should never makedo with the fact that the fi­nanc­ing ca­pac­ity to the reale­con­omy is be­ing re­buil­tand­sig­nif­i­cant re­trench­ment from in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­ity has been avoided with sev­eral years of cheap money. If they are to fix the bank­ing sys­te­mand shore­upthe reale­con­omy, they­must­start with deal­ing with the painful con­se­quence of get­ting rid of the ad­dic­tion to cheap­money.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. zhuqi­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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