Why South China Sea code of conduct is an internal matter of the region

By Ai Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/23 22:43:40

China and 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries kick-started their first joint maritime exercise on Monday. On the same day, US media decided to hype the South China Sea issue. An article in Voice of America (VOA) headlined "South China Sea Code of Conduct Gains Momentum as China Moves to Complete Militarization" cast blame upon Chinese provisions in the draft text of the code of conduct (COC), especially one that states "the Parties shall not hold joint military exercises with countries from outside the region".

There was no confirmation from China's Foreign Ministry. The spokesman made it clear earlier that information about the specific content of the code text cannot be confirmed or disclosed, but "the COC text consultation has got off to a good start…a single draft negotiating text has been formed as the basis for consultation".

The US fears it will be excluded from the South China Sea once a deal is reached. However, Washington must understand that the code is the internal affair of parties in the waters and that the framework for future peace can only be formulated by regional countries rather than through the interference of third parties.

Consultations on the code have lasted five years, since September 2013. The latest draft text has not come easily. A major reason is external intervention in the waters. That the calm South China Sea has been hyped into a seemingly imminent war zone has a lot to do with outside intervention.

Under the name of "freedom of navigation," the US has carried out frequent close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China. Washington and Tokyo are also establishing strategic alliance with some ASEAN members by providing military assistance, equipment and holding joint military drills. These military ties have become increasingly aimed at China, undermining regional stability.

As Beijing has been viewed as Washington's top rival, the US started piling pressure on ASEAN, pushing them to pick a side, jeopardizing cooperation and mutual trust among regional countries.

China is not against joint work with non-regional powers. But only after regional countries can first of all maintain peace and stability in the waters with the help of a unified code can they establish a productive platform for collaboration with other nations.

Today's Asia is confronting a series of problems caused by lagging reform of the outdated security architecture since the Cold War. The current order is no longer fit for today's situation in the South China Sea. Regional countries must learn how to figure out their differences through political means, cooperation and consultation by themselves. There will be twists and turns. But with sincerity and goodwill, measures to solve those disputes can be found. 

The code is one such measure. Aimed at boosting mutual trust, it lays a foundation for collaboration among countries in the South China Sea and may pave a way for future consensus on resolving maritime disputes. It demonstrates China and ASEAN are capable of making their own rules for their own region.

Such rules are not empty talk. The ongoing joint maritime drill is their earnest expression and just the beginning.

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