The Yomiuri Shimbun
Beijing must honor code of conduct in S. China Sea to prevent conflicts
Making its control over the South China Sea a fait accompli by buying time on the pretext of continuing dialogue, China’s posture has now become crystal clear with Beijing turning its back on efforts to formulate international rules pertaining to the disputed waters.
To lay down a “code of conduct” to prevent conflicts in the South China Sea, senior officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held talks last week in Tianjin, China.
Regarding the issue of creating the code of conduct, both sides stressed what they called the positive fruits of the talks, declaring, each participant county had agreed that we would enter a new phase of consultations to discuss highly important and complex issues. No time frame or related steps for drawing up the envisioned code of conduct were spelled out, however, meaning that the China-ASEAN talks failed to make any substantive progress.
The proposed code of conduct is to be a set of legally binding rules that would regulate behavior of such countries as China, the Philippines and Vietnam that are disputing territory in the South China Sea. Studies are being made to incorporate in the code of conduct such rules contained in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and creation of a framework to oversee the behavior of the respective countries concerned.
It appears that China, while showing that it is prepared to sit at the negotiating table with ASEAN, wants to prevent the United States from having any say in the region, in a bid to claim the South China Sea as “China’s own waters.”
If a code of conduct was actually drawn up, Beijing probably would try to make its binding power as weak as possible, with the aim of emasculating the content of the pact.
Bid to divide ASEAN members
The main reason for the failure to make progress in the talks, which began in September 2013, is China’s efforts to stymie progress, as Beijing is averse to any attempt to put constraints on its endeavor to change the status quo.
Meanwhile, China is going all-out to reclaim reefs of the Spratly Islands one after another, by building such installations as a 3,000-meter-class runway and military facilities. Should a surveillance network with radar be installed there, there would be fears that a huge area of the South China Sea would come under the influence of China.
It goes without saying that China, a major power that should fulfill its responsibility to ensure the region’s peace and stability, is responsible for the strained situation in the South China Sea.
In the middle of this week, foreign ministers and other officials from Japan, the United States, China, ASEAN members and others will hold the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Kuala Lumpur to discuss security issues. The discussion will focus on such issues as “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea.
China presumably used the senior officials’ talks last week ahead of the ARF meeting to cause internal divisions within ASEAN, probably aimed at isolating the Philippines, as problems between the two countries have intensified.
Problematic in this connection is that on the eve of the talks, Chinese forces carried out military exercises in the vicinity of Hainan Island in the South China Sea that were one of the largest in scale ever carried out by the Chinese military, with more than 100 vessels, scores of aircraft and strategic missile troops mobilized. The war games were apparently designed to keep the U.S. forces, which have been beefing up surveillance activities in the South China Sea, in check.
Japan, in cooperation with such countries as the United States and the Philippines, must press China repeatedly to help draw up an effective code of conduct as early as possible and suspend the projects to militarize the reefs in the South China Sea.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2015)