Time to let dust settle on South China Sea

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/21 0:23:39

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Philippine counterpart President Rodrigo Duterte Thursday. The two heads of state witnessed the signing of 13 Sino-Philippine cooperation agreements, covering tourism, fruit exports, infrastructure construction and defensive security consultations. Bilateral ties have turned a new page.

The maritime disputes appear to have been shelved, replaced by pragmatic cooperation projects worth hundreds of million dollars, as China will be among the most important investors in infrastructure in the Philippines. The South China Sea is embracing a brand-new landscape.

The Sino-Philippine rapport based on equal footing is supposed to be welcomed by peripheral countries and the whole Asia-Pacific region, as the most worrying powder keg of the area has been quenched. But officials and strategists in Washington, Tokyo and Singapore either kept silent or voiced sour comments. Their mainstream media made wishful predictions as to when Beijing and Manila will go back to confrontation over the sea spats.

It's a worrisome gesture. Maritime disputes between South China Sea claimants have been obsessively exploited and manipulated by irrelevant forces driven by huge interests. Those forces want to maintain the status quo and further stir confrontation between China and the Philippines. The sudden shift puts them on the back foot. Will they give up their previous pursuits to help consolidate the Sino-Philippine rapport?

Many worry that the US and Japan will not. Without being pressured by so-called threats from China, the Philippines has publicly announced its decision to suspend joint patrols and drills with US. However, the Pentagon denied being officially informed, and insists that its commitment to the Philippines is "ironclad." Public opinion conjectures that the US may pressure the Duterte government and that Japan will try to turn Duterte around during his upcoming Tokyo visit.

In fact, the South China Sea issue has been twisted by international forces. As Manila has shifted to a pragmatic policy, Washington and Tokyo have the obligation to de-escalate tensions for regional benefits.

The Philippines must have embarrassed Singapore, which claimed not long ago that ASEAN countries all criticized China "in private" on the South China Sea issue.

It is time to let the dust settle. All parties should readjust their stances in order to create a peaceful and cooperative geopolitical landscape that is capable of digesting various disputes in the region. Cooperation brings more benefits than confrontation.

After Manila quits the game, Washington will seek a new pawn for its Asia-Pacific strategy. The US should explore a constructive way to lead the world. Confrontation will ruin the 21st century. Washington should take the new type of major-country relationship into serious consideration.

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