China should seize opportunity to reshape South China Sea order

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/13 23:53:39

After a series of visits by leaders of ASEAN states to China, China and ASEAN have found common agreement to prioritize economic cooperation and move forward. A golden opportunity has emerged: It is high time for China and its rival claimants in ASEAN to make major progress in the South China Sea disputes.

It's reported that officials and scholars from countries related to the South China Sea issue have met recently to discuss trust-building mechanisms, including nailing down the Code of Conduct, reshaping South China Sea order and the feasibility of joint cooperation on areas including anti-terror, climate change and protecting biodiversity.

US President-elect Trump's aggressive posturing against China has generated a lot of uncertainties in many respects, South China Sea disputes included, which have just quieted down after the tricky and stormy international arbitration process in July.

Joint efforts from China and the Philippines have brought the derailed Sino-Philippine relationship back on track, which has foiled other claimants' attempt to complicate the situation and prompted them to shelve disagreements with China.

Stability and cooperation in the South China Sea can be achieved without interference from external countries. This job had better be done before Trump could make choppier waves in the region.

Trump laying a finger on China's core interests in such a brazen manner is against all diplomatic protocol. His diplomatic debut signals a bad omen for his foreign policy. So far, there have been no signs of boundaries he would stick to. His agenda might not exclude reshuffling the US' long-established arrangements and reshaping the international system. ASEAN countries should be anxious about their future - will the US still be accountable for their security? Can they maintain the balance between China and the US and benefit from it if the two major powers engage in intense competition?

Although the political rookie might make quite a few troubles for Sino-US ties, China could see it as a chance to show the world what a responsible major power should be. China's consistency with its promises, good intent to cooperate for reciprocity, and commitment to peace and regional stability will be much favored by other countries.

Many people might be expecting China to take tit-for-tat countermeasures against the US. However, China won't be as childish as trading insults or provocative actions just to get the upper hand in international discourse. Beijing will take the opportunity to win over Washington's agents on China's periphery, giving them a better alternative. This will give China a peaceful and stable environment for development, and its neighboring countries a free ride to benefit from its growth. Addressing the South China Sea disputes could be the first step.

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