Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spratly diplomacy

The South China Sea has long been a contention among many littoral states. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all or part of the Spratlys, which are believed to sit on vast mineral resources.

Indonesia has no such claim. However, part of its Exclusive Economic Zone on the Natuna Islands protrudes into this vast ocean. More importantly, any instability in the area will certainly destabilize the region as a whole. All the claimant countries but China are fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Beijing in itself also has the closest relations with ASEAN, having been a dialogue partner for two decades now.

Complex disputes such as these cannot be resolved quickly. Indonesia should be commended for its past role in forging better understanding to reduce potential tension in the South China Sea. A series of dialogues sponsored by Indonesia that began in the 1990s has resulted in better cooperative efforts among claimants, even though nothing concrete has been resolved.

While tempers recently flared again between China and the Philippines over the Spratly Islands and adjacent South China Sea waters, the follow-up reaction by both countries has been commendable.

Chinese President Hu Jintao late last week called on Asian nations to forge better cooperation on the security of territorial claims in the islands to avoid disagreements.

Hu asked Asian countries to reject the Cold War mind-set in which China was regarded a threat by Western economies, especially the United States.

Philippine deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Manila agreed with China’s call.

The latest incident revolves around a diplomatic protest to the UN by the Philippines against China’s “9-dash line” territorial claim over the whole of the South China Sea. Manila has also complained that Chinese patrol boats harassed a Philippine vessel in disputed waters. China has reiterated its exclusive claims to all the disputed areas and their adjacent waters.

It is clear that Indonesia should help accelerate the process of dialogue if not toward concrete joint exploration-exploitation of the area, then in formalizing a Code of Conduct for all to respect.

With due patience and diplomacy, a win-win solution is to be had in the South China Sea. The Jakarta Post

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