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Commentary: S. China Sea arbitration simply bad for Southeast Asia

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨Xinhua

07-06-2016 15:17 BJT

Full coverage: The South China Sea Issue

July 6 (Xinhua) -- The South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III has not only soured China-Philippines ties, but also undermined international rule of law and regional stability.

The arbitration was a bad idea from the beginning for one simple reason: it is detrimental to the interests of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that groups 10 member states, including the Philippines.

Firstly, the integrity of ASEAN is at stake. The United States, a close ally of the Philippines, has long interfered in the region and is using the arbitration to widen divisions and undermine mutual trust. ASEAN members have differed on the South China Sea issue, the arbitration, as well as external intervention by non-regional countries.

Secondly, the arbitration compromises existing ASEAN rules of conduct. For more than half a century, ASEAN member states have emphasized a spirit of equality, consensus and cooperation.

For example, the dual-track approach, originally thought up by ASEAN and supported by China, advocates that disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiations between parties directly concerned. It further calls on China and ASEAN to work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The dual-track approach is the most pragmatic way to manage maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. It is also in full compliance with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed by China and all ASEAN members in 2002.

However, the unilateral arbitration against China completely disregards the DOC, denies the double-track approach and ignores ASEAN's many past achievements in using negotiation as a tool to resolving disputes.

Thirdly, regional security is at risk. The frequent visits by aircraft and warships from countries outside the region are a deep concern for ASEAN and could spark an arms race. Some external countries having a hidden agenda are repeatedly muddying the waters, leaving regional countries to bear the brunt of any consequent instability.

More importantly, arbitration isn't a panacea to solving disputes. Instead, it more likely creates more disputes and stokes regional tensions, doing harm to the fundamental interests of peoples in the region.

With regard to the so-called arbitration, China has repeated its stance of non-acceptance of third-party dispute settlements or any imposed solution.

The disputes between China and the Philippines can only be solved via bilateral negotiations on the basis of fully respecting historical facts and in line with international laws.

Since winning election, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made a string of overtures on Philippines-China relations, with his spokesperson Ernesto Abella having said that Duterte wanted a "conversation" with China on the South China Sea to work out a "win-win relationship" with the country.

If Duterte is serious about solving the South China Sea issue properly and about bringing the China-Philippines ties back on track, it is time for him to act as a responsible player and make the right choice to eliminate the advance effects caused by the arbitration farce as soon as possible.


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