Expert: ASEAN will keep neutral position

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-19 0:18:01

Editor's Note:

The South China Sea issue was discussed at the sixth Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, a dialogue platform on international security and defense issues. Given the divergent views held by some ASEAN members on the territorial disputes in the region, how can China and ASEAN work together to reach a peaceful solution? Global Times reporter Yu Jincui invited three participants at the forum to share their views. 

Liu Lin, deputy director, Center for Maritime Security Studies, Academy of Military Science, China

It's hard to say whether ASEAN has become more integrated or still holds divergences over the South China Sea issue.

Some claimants such as Vietnam and the Philippines hope ASEAN could speak on their behalf, but other ASEAN nations have their own considerations and they don't want the China-ASEAN relationship to be tainted by the South China Sea issue. The importance of one to the other is obvious, and the South China Sea issue is not a core problem for bilateral ties between China and ASEAN. So far, ASEAN has stuck to its neutral position and I don't think it will move away from it. 

China insists on solving the South China Sea territorial disputes through bilateral negotiations.

At the same time, we are willing to work with ASEAN to address their concerns. We have taken ASEAN's concerns and its role into consideration, and ASEAN has responded positively to this. Any interference from external powers will only complicate the issue.

Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

ASEAN is made of states with clear boundaries. If you look at the whole of ASEAN, the only place where the boundary is not clear is the South China Sea.

ASEAN as a single player doesn't exist; it's always a collective voice. ASEAN is that kind of creature. You cannot have eight members saying one thing and two others saying no.

China wants to deal with the South China Sea issue on a bilateral level. Because, as some Chinese experts have emphasized, it's a sovereignty issue and you don't want to bring in a third person, for a third people will make both sides unhappy. That's the logic.

China is now a big power, why should it ask a third person to decide its own issue? Hopefully, other dimensions have become more important such as trade and people-to-people communications, perhaps in the end those clear boundaries don't matter that much.  

Asia is witnessing the re-rise of China, as in history China has always been a powerful country. It's difficult to handle someone who is much stronger than you, so a lot depends on how China sees itself. A Western view is that China will rise, expand and absorb everything, but I don't think that's how the Chinese think.

Because China has been so successful in the last 20 years, we forget how quickly that happened. The Deng Xiaoping model is to build up China using international trade as the logic for how China's institutions will change and adapt to the modern world. China has worked in this way so far, and will continue doing that. China's transformation from the old system is still going on.

Rastam Mohd Isa, chairman and chief executive, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia

If you look at the South China Sea, there are different components of this issue, such as territorial disputes, maritime security, safety of navigation, freedom of using the sea lanes and so on. In November 2002, China and ASEAN members agreed on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with the aim to maintain peace and stability in the region, which says China and ASEAN should work toward a Code of Conduct (COC). Now ASEAN is carrying forward this issue.

There are different proposed approaches for territorial disputes, but some mechanism has to be founded. ASEAN should continue to engage with China to promote the COC, which I think is important not only for China and ASEAN members, but for all countries concerned. If you have a proper COC, then you have proper regulated behavior in the South China Sea on the part of everyone concerned.

Whether China is "aggressive" or "assertive" is a subject of interpretation. What I think is important is to ensure that the areas remain peaceful and that efforts are continued to find a peaceful solution of the problem. It may take time.

It is also important that countries that are not directly involved in the issue don't make too much noise. Given the vision of initiatives China is making now and the prospect of the further development of the Chinese economy, China's rise can benefit lots of countries, not only ASEAN nations but other countries as well.

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