People’s Daily calls for ‘dual-track approach’ in addressing the South China Sea issue

 

A worker of a restaurant bar prepares to hoist a Chinese national flag near a drawing of the country with the words "China, South China Sea, China's territory right does not need arbitration" in Beijing, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. China warned other countries Wednesday against threatening its security in the South China Sea after an international tribunal handed the Philippines a victory by saying Beijing had no legal basis for its expansive claims there.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A worker of a restaurant bar prepares to hoist a Chinese national flag near a drawing of the country with the words “China, South China Sea, China’s territory right does not need arbitration” in Beijing, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. China warned other countries Wednesday against threatening its security in the South China Sea after an international tribunal handed the Philippines a victory by saying Beijing had no legal basis for its expansive claims there.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

China will persist in a “dual-track approach” in dealing with the South China Sea disputes and maintain a broader picture of China-ASEAN ties, the People’s Daily said in an editorial on Tuesday.

The article was published after the Think Tank Seminar on South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development held in Singapore on Monday. During the seminar, experts agreed that the concerned parties should return to a healthy dialogue to resolve the issue and join hands to promote regional cooperation and development.

As the largest coastal country along the South China Sea whose interests are closely related with peace, stability and prosperity of the waters, China is willing to embark on a path of win-win cooperation with ASEAN members, said the article written under the pen name Zhong Sheng, a homonym in Chinese for “voice of China” that is often used to express the paper’s views on foreign policy.

The following is the translation of the article:

The Think Tank Seminar on South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development was held in Singapore on Monday.

Joined by experts and scholars from China and the Southeast Asian countries, the seminar focused on three topics, namely the settlement mechanism of maritime disputes, solutions to the South China Sea disputes and South China Sea and regional cooperation and development.

As the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally filed by the Philippines has muddled the waters in the region, the seminar was held right on time since it provides a clearer answer on the solution of the disputes, the direction of China-ASEAN ties, and how to ensure sustained regional peace and stability.

Looking back on the case, ample evidence has proved that with urging from the US, the Philippines, by fanning the South China Sea issue, aims to deny China’s sovereignty and maritime interests and rights over the South China Sea, rather than settling its disputes with China.

Though the arbitration was claimed to be irrelevant to territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation, the Aquino III administration gave the game away in released official documents that stated “the move was to protect its territory and waters.” No wonder Southeast Asian scholars also voiced their doubts and criticisms over the arbitration at the seminar.

The disputes between China and the Philippines date back decades, but the Philippines had once reached consensus with China to maintain regional stability by managing and controlling the disputes through negotiations.

In the 1980s, China proposed to shelve these differences and seek joint development with the Philippines. In August 1995, the two nations issued a joint statement in which they agreed that “disputes shall be settled by the countries directly concerned” and that “a gradual and progressive process of cooperation shall be adopted with a view to eventually negotiating a settlement of the bilateral disputes.”

The word “eventually” obviously stresses that negotiation is the only way to settle the disputes and other measures including the third-party mechanism are all excluded.

In November 2002, China and the 10 ASEAN member states, the Philippines included, signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in which all parties solemnly “undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means.”

Afterwards, China and the Philippines reaffirmed this commitment in a number of bilateral political documents, including joint press statements the two governments inked in 2004 and 2011.

The Philippines, which unilaterally initiated the arbitration, broke its promises. Such a move violated international law that stresses agreements must be obeyed.

“Based on the DOC, all ASEAN countries should prioritize conversation and consultation with China in dealing with disputes. Why has the Philippines skipped the process and unilaterally applied for arbitration?” Prasit Aekaputra, a professor with Thammasat University of Thailand, asked at the seminar.

Such doubts reflected the objective thinking of the experts based on the history of the region.

After the award of the arbitration was delivered, the Chinese government issued a white paper entitled “China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.”

The title of the white paper unequivocally reveals China’s constructive stance to return to the negotiation table. A Singaporean scholar at the seminar praised the choice on its “political determination to settle the issue”.

Certain political forces are playing up the arbitration and instigating China-ASEAN ties, but with a broader picture of the China-ASEAN collaboration, China has been insisting on dealing with the South China Sea issue with a “dual track approach.”

The dual-track approach means that relevant disputes should be settled through negotiations and consultations by concerned parties based on a respect to the historic facts and international law, while at the same time China and ASEAN countries should work together to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

As a party not directly involved in the South China Sea issue, ASEAN promised that it will hold a neutral stance and not engage in specific disputes.

As the largest coastal country on the South China Sea, China is willing to embark on a path to win-win cooperation with ASEAN members.

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