Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Spratly Islands : the Philippines should not take China’s mild diplomatic stance for granted

 On 20 July 2011, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam agreed to a set of preliminary guidelines which would help resolve the dispute. The agreement was described by the PRC's assistant foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, as "an important milestone document for cooperation among China and ASEAN countries". Some of the early drafts acknowledged aspects such as "marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue and combating transnational crime", although the issue of oil and natural gas drilling remains unresolved.

The proposal outlined in this paper is modest and practical and in view of the current deadlock in the South China Sea. Ambitious proposals that call for wide sweeping agreements on a legal or political basis cannot make any headway in this dispute while the claimants insist on their sovereign claims. The stalemate may suit governments which are interested in demonstrating effective occupation of islands to support their legal claims, but it will not allow them to exploit energy resources without stimulating tensions and conflict. The positive incentive of maritime energy cooperation and all its benefits is required to move beyond the stalemate. This means building on existing efforts to exploit the resources of the area which have been undertaken by claimants separately and in their own claim zones. The extension of these efforts within a multilateral framework which could be coordinated by ASEAN is not impossible though it would demand a major change in ASEAN’s attitude towards the issue.

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On October 18, both the Philippines and South Korean authorities have detained fishing boats from China,  Philippine naval gunboat rammed into a Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippine ship captured 25 smaller boats that the Chinese ship had been towing. and some of those boats haven't been returned. China has been increasingly confronted with sea disputes and challenged by tough stances from the countries involved. These events have been promoting hawkish responses within China, asking its government to take action.

Countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea should not take China’s “mild diplomatic stance” for granted as they seek to resolve conflicting territorial claims. The Chinese government said “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons,We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.”

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