Dialogue can pave way for solving sea disputes

Updated: 2016-06-15 07:31

(China Daily)

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Dialogue can pave way for solving sea disputes

Wang Yi on the The special ASEAN-China foreign ministers' meeting,June 14,2016.[Photo/Agencies]

Twenty-five years after they launched their formal dialogue mechanisms, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have found themselves better off thanks to closer communication.

But the once virtuous cycle between economic payoff and political closeness has come under threat as territorial disputes in the South China Sea have come to dominate the limelight and evolved into a potential flashpoint.

The special ASEAN-China foreign ministers' meeting on Tuesday was important in that it provided a timely venue for strategic communication.

China and ASEAN as a whole have been on very good terms, by and large. The degree of political mutual trust, as well as economic interdependence and benign interaction between them, are hard to find elsewhere, which explains why the region has remained peaceful and vibrant in the past decades, even as much of the rest of the world struggled economically.

Yet that generally fine picture has been tarnished lately as third parties have sought to sow seeds of distrust between them.

Given the bilateral nature of the territorial disputes between some ASEAN members and China, the dialogue mechanisms between China and ASEAN as a whole are not the right channels for solving the disputes. They are, however, precious platforms for comparing notes and exchanging ideas about topics of broader regional concerns, the South China Sea included.

In order to not let the simmering tensions in the South China Sea get in the way of their common aspiration to make their partnership even more fruitful, China and ASEAN must work together on crisis management.

One conspicuous, obvious truth about the South China Sea is that outsider intervention, although it claims to be in the name of conflict prevention, is actually muddling the water and adding fuel to regional tensions.

But difficult as it may be, at the end of the day, the burden is on the shoulders of those in the region to put their own house in order. And the earlier the better, before the third-party interference makes things even messier.

Their 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was a wonderful starting move in the right direction. Now their Tuesday agreement on pressing ahead with consultations on an ultimate Code of Conduct must be followed up with substantial consensus-building endeavors.