By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2016-6-29
Amid drastic vicissitudes in the South China Sea, it is necessary to review China`s foreign relations back in 2002 when Beijing embarked on integrating with the rest of the world and putting a dent in international affairs. This start was associated with the US as well as the South China Sea and Southeast Asia.
2002 was the first anniversary of China joining the World Trade Organization. In the previous year, the US suffered the September 11 attacks, prompting the Bush administration to adjust its foreign policies. The White House stopped seeing China as a major opponent but began seeking cooperation with it in a bid to gain more assistance in countering terrorism.
In 2002, China started to become a responsible member on the world stage and its ties with the US took on a turning point. Most of the mechanisms at various levels that are still navigating the Sino-US ties were initiated that year, which have ensured the stable development of the bilateral relations all these years. The two sides have been advancing their cooperation on governing world order and addressing global hotspot issues through these mechanisms.
It was also in 2002 that the economic crisis that erupted from Thailand in 1997 and rapidly sprawled across the Asian region started to mitigate thanks to China`s robust economy. Southeast Asian countries recovered from the economic recession successively.
In this massive financial turmoil, China became a significant force in Asia. Its risk-shielding capacity and its economic takeoff impelled Southeast Asian countries to adjust their policies swiftly and try to approach the booming Asian powerhouse.
In 2002, China and ASEAN inked the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in the basic principle of shelving disputes and carrying out joint development proposed by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. After that, an eight-year-long negotiation on free trade zone set out.
History strikingly repeats itself from time to time. Back in 1978 when Deng decided to adopt the reform and opening-up policy, China made an epoch-forming breakthrough in its ties with the US while reconstructing its relations with Southeast Asian nations. Consequently, an all-around opening landscape took shape.
Beijing struck further progress in 2002 than in 1978. It not only became an important member in the international system but also paved the way for the development of Sino-US relations in concerted effort with the US. Meanwhile, it started to influence the global and regional peace development process by establishing norms and rules.
The DOC is viewed as an iconic document and also a major transformation in the Chinese government`s thinking in resolving the South China Sea territorial dispute. Moreover, the declaration signals a good start for Beijing to participate in and guide the configuration of the regional order.
The dual-track approach put forward by the Chinese government, according to which specific disputes are to be solved through negotiations and consultations by countries directly concerned, and peace and stability in the region should be jointly upheld by both China and ASEAN countries, was extended from the DOC.
Since 2002, China has seen its relationship with ASEAN improving. A "10+3" industrial interaction link which also includes South Korea and Japan has come into being. Reinforced cooperation within Asia has endowed the region with powerful resilience in the 2008 financial crisis, which is the worst ever financial crisis since the Great Depression.
It was also from the outbreak of the catastrophic crisis that Washington has diverted its attention to Asia. During a visit to Vietnam, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave a sudden emphasisi on how the South China Sea is in the national interests of the US, pretentiously underlining the importance and urgency to safeguard freedom of navigation on the South China Sea waters.
"The US is back!" Washington will prevent Beijing from reconfiguring the order of the Asia-Pacific region, because the US believes it will pose a direct threat to its dominant role in this area.
Americans have chosen a critical time when China is dedicated to building the regional security order. The abrupt changes in the South China Sea and China`s peripheries have brought about a tough choice for China to promote its regional strategies.
On the one hand, China needs to defend its sovereign integrity and unswervingly tackle US military interference. On the other, it has to ramp up regional cooperation by constructing a stable regional order to create a peaceful environment for long-term development. Coordinating efforts to serve both ends has become an urgent issue worth taking note of.
The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.