South China Sea row: dialogue and joint ventures the way forward

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 8:33pm

I refer to Philip Bowring’s column on the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines (“Beijing’s claim about its ownership of the South China Sea needs to be rebutted, July 16) and letters by Peter Wei (“China is right to take this strong stance”, July 14) and W. L. Chang (“Grim future for Asean if it fails to change tack”, July 14).

W. L. Chang’s ability to view the independence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations only in terms of acquiescence to the heavenly mandates and raw power of the Chinese Communist Party-People’s Liberation Army is unfortunate, especially for someone who lives in a world city that takes great pride in its rule of law.

He clearly condones Beijing’s erosion of Asean’s unity, centrality and consensus-based decision-making with coercive tactics in recent years.

Must the world inevitably be a stage only for the superpowers and their stooges?

Is freedom of navigation only a euphemism for America’s close surveillance of China, according to Chang’s playbook?

What about the basic rights of Filipino fishermen to navigate freely across their country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for a living, liberties which were denied them by a Chinese naval blockade in utter defiance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that both the Philippines and China signed on to?

Under Unclos, all historical maritime and territorial claims are extinguished in favour of a new regime which seeks to engender more just, civilised and enlightened international oceanic behaviour according to clearly defined parameters.

Like everyone else, China is entitled to only a 200 nautical mile EEZ from its long coastline.

Where such claims overlap due to geography, for example, there is no reason these cannot be resolved peacefully through joint sustainable development and cooperation.

Many countries in the region have done that, including China and Vietnam when they signed an accord for a joint fishing area and the delimitation of maritime territories in the Gulf of Tonkin almost two decades ago. New and eco-friendly farming techniques have also made it more conducive for many Chinese billionaires to address their countrymen’s growing appetite for fisheries in a sustainable way.

Projecting unilateral and wild territorial assertions based on a bygone ancient regime as a historical “fact” that runs contrary to Unclos is counter-productive to win-win negotiations.

Constructive actions tend to speak louder than flowery words.

John Chan, Singapore