ASEAN-China relations go beyond disputes

By Xue Zuxian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-17 18:43:29

To the surprise of many in the media, the Chairman's Statement of the 25th ASEAN Summit used a moderate tone on the South China Sea disputes between China and some of ASEAN member states. While the 24th summit early this year "expressed serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea," this summit just remained "concerned over the situation in the South China Sea."

China has made a strategic partnership with ASEAN for peace and prosperity. Toward this end, China and ASEAN have kept regular high-level contacts, visit and interactions to promote dialogue and exchange ideas on bilateral, regional and international topics of common interests and concerns.

China and ASEAN member states have been embedded into various multilateral security mechanisms. Besides the traditional ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus and East Asia Summit, they have also organized senior officials' meetings and joint working group meetings on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) while discussing a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2013 called for an upgraded China-ASEAN Free Trade Area by enriching its content within the "Two plus Seven" Cooperation Framework. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), established in late October by China and 20 other founding members, will benefit ASEAN. Furthermore, China offered ASEAN countries $20 billion in loans on Thursday to help develop infrastructure.

China has very special and specific relations with individual ASEAN member states besides their traditional and historical contacts.

For instance, China is deepening its relations with Myanmar. During his visit to No. 14 Middle School in Nay Pyi Taw, Li encouraged young Myanmar students to maintain and continue the China-Myanmar friendship.

As the Chinese side has reiterated, territorial disputes over the South China Sea are just problems between China and some ASEAN members, not between China and ASEAN.

The consultation process between China and ASEAN member states in implementing DOC is just talks among the 11 parties, rather than between China and ASEAN.

The South China Sea shouldn't be a competitive venue but an experimental field or incubator for cooperation between China and ASEAN. As Indonesian President Joko Widodo addressed at the East Asia Summit in Myanmar on Thursday, "the seas should unite, not separate us."

With the advancement of the consultations between China and ASEAN member states on COC, all parties have finally realized that a "dual-track" approach is the best option in dealing with the South China Sea issue. After intensive consultations, ASEAN member states have also recognized the importance of "working toward the early conclusion of the COC" and "seeing more early harvest measures to promote and enhance trust and confidence."

It's understandable that there are some divergent ideas about the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

During the ASEAN summit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung stated that Vietnam would "apply every peaceful and necessary measure" under international law to protect the country's legal rights in the disputed sea region. He also made it clear that peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation were the concerns of regional and non-regional countries.

US President Barack Obama said the US "very much shares the belief that it's important for all countries in the region, large and small, to abide by rules-based norms in resolving disputes" when holding his first formal meeting with Dung on Thursday in Nay Pyi Taw.

Evidently, the US still tries to instigate conflicts among East Asian countries by provoking the territorial disputes which prevent their mutual trust from the perspective of traditional security.

The author is a research fellow with Shanghai University.

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