Ad­vance COC talks through build­ing re­gional trust

Global Times US Edition - - EDITORIAL - By Wang Wen­wen

US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor John Bolton warned China on Tues­day that Wash­ing­ton would “op­pose any agree­ments be­tween China and other claimants to the South China Sea that limit free pas­sage to in­ter­na­tional ship­ping, and that Amer­i­can naval ves­sels would con­tinue to sail through those waters,” ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal.

Bolton’s as­ser­tion came right af­ter Chi­nese Premier Li Ke­qiang said that China hopes to fin­ish ne­go­ti­a­tions over the South China Sea Code of Con­duct (COC) within three years so as to keep en­dur­ing peace in the re­gion. Both are at­tend­ing the ASEAN Sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore right now.

With the joint ef­forts of China and rel­e­vant ASEAN coun­tries, ten­sions in the South China Sea have cooled down. While Western an­a­lysts hold a skep­ti­cal view of the agree­ment be­tween China and ASEAN na­tions to start ne­go­ti­a­tions on the COC, talks on the COC have in­deed been pushed for­ward in a stead­fast pace.

It is worth not­ing that, due to the US’ con­tin­u­ous ut­ter­ance and med­dling, the COC talks may be a twisted and com­pli­cated process. But it is also a process dur­ing which China and ASEAN can build up trust. The COC ne­go­ti­a­tions in­di­cate that re­gional coun­tries can solve their own prob­lems, al­beit in the face of ex­ter­nal in­ter­fer­ences. The up­com­ing three years are a time when China and ASEAN will sort out how to mit­i­gate in­ter­fer­ence by ex­ter­nal fac­tors, es­pe­cially the US.

For a long time, the US has been try­ing to woo South­east Asian na­tions which have ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China in South China Sea waters, in­clud­ing the Philip­pines and Viet­nam. Wash­ing­ton’s ap­proach is an at­tempt to bal­ance China’s rise and counter the so-called re­gional hege­mony of China. The of­ten-touted Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy by the US is in essence a mea­sure to con­tain China by build­ing a net­work of al­lies and part­ners.

The US will con­tinue to ex­pand its pres­ence in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion. It is bud­get­ing to spend $717 bil­lion on de­fense in 2019, its high­est spend­ing since 2011, which will in­crease the size and might of the US mil­i­tary partly in re­sponse to China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea. China should keep alert of any trou­bles US in­ter­fer­ence in the area may bring to the COC talks.

To en­sure the con­struct of a well­func­tion­ing se­cu­rity frame­work, China is keenly push­ing for­ward eco­nomic and trade co­op­er­a­tion with ASEAN coun­tries. China is work­ing with ASEAN to up­grade the bi­lat­eral Free Trade Agree­ment signed in 2004, and such ef­forts will fa­cil­i­tate the COC talks in re­turn. China and the Philip­pines are seek­ing joint oil and gas ex­plo­ration in the South China Sea, which can cre­ate a pos­i­tive foun­da­tion for the two to ex­pand co­op­er­a­tion and solve ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes.

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