Beijing should assume leadership role in controlling piracy in Asian waterways

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/3 0:38:39

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently asked China for help in the fight against Islamic militants by sending ships to patrol piracy-plagued waters in the Sulu Sea, according to media reports. Such a move would have been hard to imagine in the past when Sino-Philippine ties were at rock bottom in July due to the South China Sea arbitration.

A surge in piracy has made the Philippines realize the importance of ensuring navigational safety in the Sulu Sea and adjacent waters, located along a strategic international  waterway and close to the South China Sea. The US has long kept a close watch on the issue of navigation safety in Asia but the so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea conducted by the US military have in fact destabilized regional peace. The olive branch offered by the Duterte administration to enhance cooperation with China rather than the US over marine patrol deserves attention given this context. Countries within Asia have the ability to maintain navigational safety in Asia's strategic waterways. Such efforts would give the US no excuse to interfere in the region's internal affairs under the call of "defending freedom of navigation."

Some Asian countries have set up a cooperation mechanism to safeguard navigation safety. After the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) came into force in 2006, there was a massive reduction in pirate attacks. However, the cooperation has not put an end to raids on commercial vessels and a recent surge in piracy calls for more efforts to enhance regional and bilateral cooperation in maintaining navigational safety. It is worth considering strengthening cooperation between China and the Philippines in various areas such as joint patrols and information sharing. Such efforts will be conducive to maintaining navigational safety as well as boosting strategic mutual trust between Beijing and Manila.

Beijing seems willing to assume more international responsibility in combating piracy and maintaining navigational safety in Asia's strategic waterways. As part of those efforts, China is firm in safeguarding navigational freedom in the South China  Sea, one of the world's busiest waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade reportedly moves annually. The proper development of some islands in the South China Sea would not threaten navigational freedom but would instead help combat piracy as patrol vessels could use facilities on the islands and reefs to maintain order in sparsely populated areas.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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