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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: May 26, 2015 NO.22 MAY 28, 2015
A New Solution To an Old Issue
The dual-track approach emphasizes peace for resolving the South China Sea disputes
By An Gang

When it comes to the South China Sea, China aims to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maintain regional stability. Accusations that China is taking advantage of the situation to accelerate its naval buildup in an attempt to control the Western Pacific are unfounded and irresponsible.

Parties directly involved in the disputes include China, Viet Nam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and China's Taiwan. Therefore, the South China Sea disputes are not specifically an issue between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and even less of an issue between China and the United States, which seeks to contain China by capitalizing the disputes while cementing its "Pivot to Asia" strategy.

China has always been committed to using dialogue and negotiation to peacefully resolve its issues, while avoiding militaristic confrontation. In July 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed a dual-track approach to settling the South China Sea issue during the China-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting. Four months later, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed the approach during the East Asia Summit and declared that it had been recognized and supported by ASEAN members.

China's dual-track approach means specific disputes are to be peacefully solved through bilateral negotiations and consultations by countries directly involved on the basis of observing historic facts and international law; in the meantime, peace and stability in the region should be jointly protected by China and ASEAN countries. The proposal of this approach signals a significant change in China's method of handling the South China Sea disputes by trying to strike a balance between safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maintaining regional stability. China used to reject any discussion of the issue on any multilateral occasions. But now, it acknowledged the necessity to talk about the disputes on international occasions on a limited basis in an effort to prevent the regional disputes from being globalized.

Wu Shicun, President of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the dual-track approach has clarified the respective rights and obligations of countries that are directly concerned and countries that are not, therefore effectively preventing the latter from choosing sides and further complicating the issue. More importantly, this approach will thwart attempts by certain individual countries to use the issue to manipulate the ASEAN and to sabotage China's overall relations with the association.

In 2015, the possibility of overall escalation of the disputes cannot be ruled out. In 2013, the Philippines unilaterally filed an international arbitration case for its disputes with China on the South China Sea. An arbitral tribunal formed by the International Court of Justice in Hague will decide in July whether the court has jurisdiction over the case filed by the Philippines. However, it is the Chinese Government's belief that such an issue cannot be decided internationally without consulting the countries involved.

The United States has recently shown more bias when intervening in South China Sea disputes under the pretense of being concerned about freedom of navigation. Senior military officials from U.S. Pacific Command instigated their allies in the region to cruise the South China Sea.

ASEAN members are not always on the same page when it comes to the South China Sea disputes, as they have varied perspectives on the issue. However, for two years in a row the ASEAN Summit has expressed concerns over the situation in its joint statement, raising Chinese concerns over whether the Philippines is "kidnapping" the ASEAN to serve its own interests with respect to the issue.

From China's point of view, the only way to preventing further complication is to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed in 2001 on the basis of the dual-track approach.

As Article 4 of the DOC stipulates, the parties concerned must endeavor to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.

China and the 10 ASEAN members should accelerate negotiations to reach a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea as soon as possible. To our delight, early harvest measures of the COC were achieved when China and ASEAN members announced their intention to speed up negotiations in October 2014.

In addition, international maritime laws, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, should be revised to show respect for a country's historic rights instead of focusing only on de facto control of certain areas.

Finally, parties indirectly concerned should refrain from intervention with the disputes, if a peaceful and stable South China Sea is what they really want.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review

Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com 

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