S.China Sea doesn’t need out­side ‘help’

Global Times US Edition - - EDITORIAL -

Dur­ing his visit to Viet­nam, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of­fered his ser­vices as a me­di­a­tor to the South China Sea claimants. “If I can help me­di­ate or ar­bi­trate, please let me know,” Trump said in com­ments dur­ing a meet­ing in Hanoi with Viet­nam’s pres­i­dent, Tran Dai Quang. He also stressed that he was “a very good me­di­a­tor and ar­bi­tra­tor.”

How­ever, Trump’s boast­ful of­fer has only re­ceived tepid re­sponse from Hanoi and Manila. Tran said Viet­nam be­lieves in han­dling dis­putes on the South China Sea through peace­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions and on the ba­sis of in­ter­na­tional laws. Philip­pine For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Alan Cayetano thanked Trump for the of­fer, but said that claimant coun­tries, in­clud­ing China, have to find so­lu­tions as a group on their own.

Ob­vi­ously, China will not be in­ter­ested in Trump’s ser­vices as me­di­a­tor in the South China Sea dis­putes. Bei­jing’s con­sis­tent stance holds that ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes can only be solved through bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions by claimant coun­tries and se­cu­rity in the South China Sea can be main­tained by China and ASEAN coun­tries and ex­ter­nal pow­ers should not step in.

Wash­ing­ton has al­ready been too ac­tive in the South China Sea is­sue. Dur­ing the Obama era, US in­ter­ven­tion in South China Sea af­fairs reached a cli­max. It is un­known if Trump’s self-rec­om­men­da­tion is a re­sult of his im­pul­sive style or comes from care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of the is­sues.

The South China Sea sit­u­a­tion has changed a lot since the Obama era. The Philip­pines and Viet­nam are try­ing to solve the mar­itime dis­putes peace­fully with China. Re­gional coun­tries have grad­u­ally re­al­ized that in­ter­ven­tion by the US and Ja­pan will only add com­plex­ity to the dis­putes and make geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion the theme of the South China Sea is­sue.

Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo in­cited the Philip­pines and Viet­nam to go against China, which failed to bring any con­crete ben­e­fits to the two coun­tries. Their co­op­er­a­tion with China was greatly af­fected. The do­mes­tic de­vel­op­ment of the two coun­tries was jeop­ar­dized, and their se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment ten­u­ous, prompt­ing them to re­think and ad­just their strate­gies.

The South China Sea ar­bi­tra­tion case, which im­per­iled re­gional sta­bil­ity, was handed down more than a year ago, but China-Philip­pine re­la­tions have al­ready turned for the bet­ter, with co­op­er­a­tion and ne­go­ti­a­tions back on track. Mean­while, China and Viet­nam have at­tached more im­por­tance to man­ag­ing mar­itime con­flicts and pri­or­i­tized party-to-party and state-to-state re­la­tions. If the out­side world re­ally wants to pro­mote re­gional peace and co­op­er­a­tion, it should en­cour­age such in­ter­ac­tiv­ity and pre­vent ex­ter­nal forces from in­ter­fer­ing in the cur­rent pos­i­tive mo­men­tum.

The luke­warm re­sponse of Viet­nam and the Philip­pines to­ward Trump’s of­fer in­di­cates that US pol­icy on the South China Sea needs ad­just­ment. The en­hanced US pres­ence in the South China Sea is aimed at con­tain­ing China’s in­creas­ing in­flu­ence, but it has cre­ated a tense sit­u­a­tion on the sea and a strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Philip­pines and Viet­nam and China. This is con­trary to the in­ter­ests of Manila and Hanoi and poses po­ten­tial threats to the en­tire re­gion.

The US should be clear that the South China Sea is not the Caribbean Sea. No coun­try in ASEAN wants to fall into the or­bit of col­lud­ing with the US and coun­ter­ing China. The South China Sea should be­come the world’s safest sea lane un­der the most ac­tive in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, in­stead of a geopo­lit­i­cal play­ing field dom­i­nated by the US. Wash­ing­ton needs to ex­er­cise strate­gic re­straint in the re­gion rather than act­ing will­fully.

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