The probability of agreement on a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by mid-year is a positive sign.
It means that the two sides are back on track over the issue, sending out a signal to outside meddlers that they can stop making waves.
At the end of an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting Tuesday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, whose country currently chairs ASEAN, said that his country is confident that ASEAN countries will work out a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea by June or July.
Meanwhile, he said the South China Sea issue is not the “sum-total” of relations between his country and China, and the Philippines has decided to pursue the bigger aspects of ties with China.
In fact, countries directly concerned have returned to the right track over the South China Sea issue despite an ill-founded award on South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the former Philippine government led by then President Benigno Aquino III.
The signing of the China-ASEAN joint statement on the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea and other documents at last year’s East Asian leaders’ meetings showed that the parties involved have been ready to focus their energy on building trust. Such momentum needs to be maintained.
As for foreign media’s hype of China’s militarization in the South China Sea, it is rooted in self-interest and ulterior motives.
China is doing nothing more than maintaining and defending its territorial integrity and legitimate maritime rights in the waters, and its reclamation and construction activities are mainly for civilian purposes and public good.
China always respects the freedom of navigation and the freedom of overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, and has never disturbed legitimate passage.
The situation in the South China Sea has long been stable thanks to the efforts of both China and the directly involved parties. However, the USA under its “Pivot to Asia” strategy, has increased its military presence in the region under the pretext of freedom of navigation.
China will adhere to a peaceful approach, based on historical facts and international law, to the South China Sea issue through dialogue and consultation with the directly concerned countries.
Meanwhile, it hopes that outsiders will respect the efforts made by China and ASEAN and do more things that are helpful for peace and stability in the South China Sea.
By Zhu Junqing
Paul Ebeling, Editor
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