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Charting the right course through South China Sea

English.news.cn   2011-07-22 16:39:22 FeedbackPrintRSS

BEIJING, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers Thursday formally endorsed a set of guidelines on conduct in the South China Sea, taking an important step toward a peaceful solution to the territorial disputes in the strategic waters.

The document, hammered out Wednesday by senior officials from China and the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will serve as a compass to guide the implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

Highlighting a forward-looking spirit and a strong will for cooperation, the new accord conveyed China and ASEAN's shared determination to alleviate the recently flared-up tensions in the South China Sea, restore calm to the busy maritime space and steer the region toward common prosperity.

This future-oriented, cooperative approach mirrors Beijing's long-established principle of "shelving differences while seeking joint development" on the South China Sea issue and its broader policy of creating an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood.

A simple fact-check suffices to prove that China has always played a responsible role in handling the thorny disputes. Since the DOC was reached, China has strictly observed the landmark agreement, exercising maximum restraint while endeavoring to build trust and construct a commonly acceptable solution.

However, some other parties in the disputes have sometimes behaved in a way that runs directly counter to the DOC. Such moves as carrying out military drills in the contested waters and throwing around imprudent rhetoric can be anything but helpful.

In a more flagrant breach of the written promise to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes," these trouble-making claimants have been assuming the role of a victim on the world stage, attempting to draw non-parties into the already intricate disputes and fish more illegitimate benefits from troubled waters.

Yet any serious examination will find that their claims cannot hold water. They had recognized China's sovereignty over the islands at stake well before they backtracked in the late 1960s and early 1970s when UN scientists revealed a potentially resource-rich South China Sea. The logic behind their claims, which equals relative vicinity to sovereignty, is in glaring contradiction to established international norms.

These countries should also bear in mind that the wolf has a winning game when the shepherds quarrel. As China has repeatedly stressed, the South China Sea disputes are essentially bilateral issues between China and other individual claimant countries, and represent only a tiny part of the whole regional picture. Such issues should be handled bilaterally, and history has demonstrated again and again that China and ASEAN countries are able to solve their own problems.

Meanwhile, a peaceful South China Sea and a stable Southeast Asia serve the interests of the broader international community. The plot of some other countries to keep so-called controllable tensions in the region for their own benefit is a dangerous game that could end in the tensions spiraling out of control and bringing disaster to themselves.

In the modern era, consultation and cooperation have become the main tools to settle international disputes. Thursday's signing of the latest accord reflected this zeitgeist and represented a significant step forward in the right direction toward an early, peaceful solution to the South China Sea disputes.

China and other relevant parties should build on the momentum, address the South China Sea disputes in the context of the epic efforts to promote regional development and prosperity and make concerted efforts to make the waters between them a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

But what is also worth noting is that China's restraint and goodwill should not be misinterpreted as weakness, and no one should underestimate China's resolve to protect every inch of its territories.

Editor: Zhang Xiang
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