Why External Powers Should Avoid Fueling South China Sea Tensions

The South China Sea issue can be solved peacefully and be managed through non-military means as long as all parties concerned remain engaged in serious dialogues and consultations.

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An aerial drone photo taken on May 16, 2024 shows several Philippine ships gathering illegally and conducting activities irrelevant to legitimate fishing in the surrounding waters of Huangyan Dao. (CCG/Handout via Xinhua)

The South China Sea remains a complex issue that lacks simple resolutions and has been distorted bigger than the issue itself in nature. It is essential for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which may have varying attitudes, to collectively prioritize regional stability.

Moreover, external engagements that may exacerbate tensions should be avoided. This is also a priority in relevant diplomatic negotiations. Outside countries must not interfere in the issue or make irresponsible remarks or provocations, or any direct or indirect involvement.

The South China Sea issue can be addressed peacefully through diplomatic negotiations under the ASEAN-China framework.

At the 26th ASEAN-China Summit in September 2023, the two sides adopted the Guidelines for Accelerating the Early Conclusion of an Effective and Substantive Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. These guidelines set out a road map for the COC negotiations, including a timeline for concluding the agreement and a list of key issues to be addressed.

However, the Philippines has engaged with external countries like the United States and Japan regarding the South China Sea. They don’t prefer any peaceful solution or play any constructive role. They try to make the problem even bigger, even worse.

The United States and its allies try to stop China from rising and try to contain China and encircle China. It seems to be the return of the Cold War.

The recent military exercises initiated by the United States and participated in by Japan and the Philippines seem repetitive and dangerous. They should not conduct such provocative or military activity.

Therefore, parties directly involved in the issue must continue to settle the dispute by peaceful means. The concerned parties should continue using the ASEAN-China mechanism for the full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and they should further work together to realize the COC and collaborate in settling the issue.

Undoubtedly, political trust, mutual learning, mutual respect, and mutual interests are basic foundations of realizing the prospective COC.

It’s crucial to promote free trade and regional economic integration, which can create a strong incentive for stability in the region.

The South China Sea issue can be solved peacefully and be managed through non-military means as long as all parties concerned remain engaged in serious dialogues and consultations.

The generally friendly and increasingly close relations between China and ASEAN and between China and ASEAN individual member states must not be clouded by South China Sea issue.

We need to commit to maintaining peace, security and stability in the South China Sea, as well as sustaining the enormous interest for the whole region generated by good cooperative relations and a mutually beneficial comprehensive strategic partnership between China and ASEAN.

We need to prepare for peace instead of strengthening our capability to win a war. We need to strengthen our capability to win the peace. We need peace because peace is very important for economic development. Without peace, it’s very difficult to achieve economic development. And as we have seen in our various experiences in the world, war is always inimical to economic development. War is inimical to human prosperity.

Kin Phea

Kin Phea is director general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia, a think tank under the Royal Academy of Cambodia.

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