Dialogue and cooperation vital to handling of South China Sea issue: experts

By Ding Zi, Yu Yichun, Yang Ou and Zhang Zhiwen from People’s Daily

Parties concerned over the issue of the South China Sea should return to the healthy track of using dialogue to resolve disputes and join hands to promote regional cooperation and development, experts said during the “Think Tank Seminar on the South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development” in Singapore on Monday.

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Around 30 scholars from China, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries gathered in Singapore to discuss ways to settle and solutions to disputes in the South China Sea, as well as overall regional cooperation and development.

During the seminar, think-tank members reiterated that through presupposition, self-established rules and disregard for basic facts, the arbitral tribunal proceeding over the case unilaterally filed by the Philippines has violated the basic principles of international law and therefore its verdict has no binding force at all.

The arbitration was a complete political farce carried out under legal pretext, during which serious mistakes concerning procedure, application of the law and admission of evidence were made, said Zhao Qizheng, dean of Renmin University of China’s School of Journalism and former head of the State Council Information Office.

Zheng Yongnian, director of the National University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute, pointed out that the South China Sea issue has always been a political issue rather than a simple legal matter.

“The law has never effectively settled international disputes,” Zheng said, adding that since China and the Philippines have signed many political agreements, both sides should solve disputes through negotiation.

Deputy Director General Li Guoqiang from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ (CASS) Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies told the People’s Daily that the tribunal has cast judicial fairness and justice aside in exchange for “paid for justice.”

“Abundant historical literature from over the past two millennia has proven that China was the first to discover, name, develop and peacefully utilize the islands and waters in the South China Sea,” he added.

Lacking any basic work ethic, the so-called arbitrators have rendered an extremely absurd and ridiculous verdict, Li said.

According to Fu Kuen-chen, dean of Xiamen University’s South China Sea Institute, many people were surprised by the one-sided verdict, which being delivered without China’s participation throughout the process has set a bad precedent for international society.

Professor Swaran Singh from the Jawaharlal Nehru University echoed Fu’s opinion. Signh noted that the so-called verdict bears no political wisdom or practicability, let alone authority. “This verdict made with narrow jurisprudence will only escalate tension in the South China Sea,” he added.

When talking about the interference and manipulation of the arbitration by the US, Japan and other countries outside the region, Associate Research Fellow Hou Yi from the CASS Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies said that the arbitration will only jeopardize the interests of neighboring countries in the South China Sea region and the common interests of China and ASEAN countries.

“The US’ interference is not conducive to regional peace, stability and development,” Hou said.

“We must stay vigilant and clear-minded so as to not fall into the trap that is this geopolitical game,” Vannarith Chheang, co-founder and chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies emphasized, adding that Cambodia will not allow the arbitration results to damage China-ASEAN ties.

As this year marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations, Zhao stressed that disputes in the South China Sea are a problem that exists between China and some ASEAN member states, not all of them.

“An indisputable fact is that peace, stability, cooperation and development in the South China Sea conforms to the maximum interests of all sides,” he maintained.

Wang Yuzhu, director of the CASS Centre for APEC and East-Asia Cooperation, pointed out that after the clamor around the arbitration case settles down concerned states will eventually realize that life will go on.

“China leads regional development. At some level, the development of the Southeast Asian economy over the past decade owes itself to China,” Oh Ei Sun, a senior researcher with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told People’s Daily.

It is the aspiration of ASEAN states to strengthen cooperation with China, as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and “Belt and Road” initiative have been widely welcomed by ASEAN members, he added.

“The common destiny of the China-ASEAN community is vital to regional development,” he said.

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