By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2016-5-26
It may be inappropriate to talk about joint development in the South China Sea at the moment. But has the pursuit of this idea come to a dead end? Most people would probably say "No." "Sovereignty is ours; set aside dispute and pursue joint development" was a concept advanced by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to solve the South China Sea issue. It is not outdated. Some hold that the method of "setting aside disputes" has failed because the other claimants did not follow it. Such a viewpoint ignores the role of "joint development."
Deng articulated a complete train of thought. The failure of setting aside disputes can be attributed to the failed advancement of joint development. In multiple fields such as environment protection, fishing and maritime security, cooperation was halted before it got off the ground.
Judging from the current situation in the South China Sea, sovereignty can be put first. But it does not mean we should give up joint development. Setting aside disputes and joint development do not go against the notion of sovereignty maintenance. The solution to the South China Sea disputes needs collaboration of the three steps.
Chinese friends of mine went to Thailand and Vietnam recently. They were surprised at the strong reaction from the two countries, especially Thailand, toward China`s moves in the South China Sea. They believe China has damaged its ties with Southeast Asia. I feel the same when I read recent Southeast Asian media commentaries. If we take a broader eye, we can see that the South China Sea issue also has a detrimental impact on China`s relations with the US, India, Europe and other Asia-Pacific countries and adds costs for China in pushing forward ties with these countries.
The negative effect caused by China`s safeguarding of its sovereignty in the South China Sea will not disappear if we simply ignore it. Nor will it be solved if we take a hard-line approach in this matter. Take fishing in the ocean. If we cannot find a solution to joint development and establish cooperation mechanisms, Chinese fishermen may still be detained by other countries. The endangered species and the environment in the South China Sea cannot be protected either.
From the perspective of national rejuvenation, the sovereignty issue is particularly important. China`s moves in the South China Sea are aimed at maintaining the integrity of its sovereignty, which fundamentally differs from imperialistic expansion. That is why China still adheres to its basic policy of peaceful development.
When safeguarding sovereignty, China needs to take into consideration concerns from other countries and restore its image impaired in the South China Sea disputes.
China has territorial and maritime disputes with four South China Sea claimant countries. But ASEAN has 10 member states, some of which are situated near the South China Sea or surrounding waters. There is plenty of opportunities for cooperation in areas such as maritime development and environmental protection.
Striking back is not the only solution to the arbitration raised by the Philippines. Seeking wider cooperation with other claimants and neighboring countries can also help dispel the negative impact of the ruling of the arbitration.
China`s diplomacy still prioritizes cooperation, which helps create a favorable political atmosphere for China and regional countries to solve various disputes via peaceful means.
We should call for joint development in the South China Sea. As long as we take the initiative in planning and bring concrete suggestions to the table, we can seize the moral high ground.
China is the most powerful country in the region and holds an advantageous position in fields such as fishery, maritime environmental protection and climate research. China also owns the largest part of the waters in the South China Sea and is duty-bound to lead joint development in this area. This also serves as a pillar for China to share the rights of future rule-making in Asia and make itself a dominant figure in peaceful regional development.
The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.