One tenet of China's diplomacy is to hide its capabilities and bide its time before taking action. Now that China's national strength has been greatly increased, taking action has become more important, especially in the South China Sea issue.
The Huangyan Island dispute between China and the Philippines has been alleviated. Some observers have concluded that this is because China adopted a new model to handle the dispute. They call it the "Huangyan Island model."
It appears the Huangyan Island dispute has been a good thing for China as well as the claimant country. It shows clearly that China is a big power as well as a strong regional power. If the Philippines kept pressing and provoking China, it would end up hurting itself. China has effectively become the sea power in the Huangyan area, which has been the measured effect of the Huangyan Island model.
It's worth summing up the experiences from China's successful defense of the sovereignty of Huangyan. We can also draw some lessons. One is that China was passive in clashing with the Philippines over Huangyan. It is forced to innovate when solving maritime territorial disputes and not taking the initiative.
China's passiveness in the dispute shows the limitations of the Huangyan Island model in solving future South China Sea disputes. There should even be a question mark on whether it can really be taken as a model.
There are mainly two factors affecting the South China Sea disputes nowadays. One is that some claimant countries in the South China Sea region keep further encroaching on China's territorial waters. The other is the active interference of external forces. Besides, China taking active actions to solve the disputes is inadequate.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea. The declaration has great significance in maintaining regional stability. But it's far from enough. Although a decade has passed, there has been little progress in achieving "joint development while shelving disputes." China has been sincerely promoting solving the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and trying to maintain the status quo.
Imagine, if China had created a similar model to the Huangyan Island model 10 years ago, that is, the country would have taken immediate measures to safeguard its sovereignty once any provocation had been made in China's territorial waters, could China be more active today.
Things are not as simple as imagined. But this demonstrates that only when China takes action, things can develop in the direction China expects. It is misleading to think that as long as China exercises restraint, problems would automatically be solved while China's national strength increases.
China should actively seek to solve the South China Sea disputes. That needs using military force, but it doesn't mean that war is inevitable.
Taking action is sometimes needed to avoid using military force. It means using political, diplomatic and military strengths comprehensively and smartly. Finding a peaceful way to solve disputes is the most difficult path to take.
In taking such actions, China will be responsible for its own interests as well as those of other countries in the region. Without China's involvement, lasting peace in the South China Sea region is impossible.
The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Bangkok. firstname.lastname@example.org