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Proceedings of the International Workshop, co-organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, 26-27 November 2009, Hanoi, Vietnam

Editor: Tran Truong Thuy
Editorial Assistants: Nguyen Thuy Minh and  Le Thuy Trang

Copyright
© /2010 Selection and editorial matters, Tran Truong Thuy;
individual chapters, contributors.

On behalf of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Lawyers’ Association, co - organizers of this workshop, I would like to express our welcome and sincere thank to all of you who are here for the international workshop on “The South China Sea: Cooperation for Regional Security and Development”, the first of its kind, held in Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Distinguished Guests,

From time immemorial, the South China Sea has taken on special economic and strategic importance as the area is the site of many very important sea lanes and endowed with diversified and rich maritime resources. Nowadays with integration and globalization, its importance has gone beyond the region and has drawn the attention of many nations amidst the tendency toward peace, cooperation and development existing as the mainstream of international relations. Realizing the tendency and being aware of the complexity of the situation in the South China Sea, the parties concerned have, in the main, striven for peace, stability and cooperation in the region. As a result, the last decade and more witnessed certain progress in their cooperative efforts to reduce tension and look for a peaceful solution to the disputes in the South China Sea. In this connection, mention can be made of the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea, the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the first step toward a code of conduct in the South China Sea, and the 2005 Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in Certain Areas in the South China Sea between China, Vietnam and the Philippines..."

This paper focuses on Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea in 2009. According to official policy, China promotes ‘peace, cooperation and development’ in the Asia-Pacific under the new doctrine of creating a ‘harmonious world’. China has therefore given priority to the primacy of economic growth and a peaceful international environment. China’s phenomenal economic growth has been driven by export-orientated trade. China’s economic growth has also fueled a rising demand for resources and energy. These two factors have combined to heighten the importance, from a Chinese perspective, of ensuring that vital Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) remain safe and secure.

"Tensions are on the rise in the South China Sea and this has worrisome implications for peace, stability and cooperation in the region, the subtitle of this session. In my presentation this afternoon I would like to address recent developments by examining three broad themes: first, the underlying causes of rising tensions, particularly the role played by China; second, ASEAN’s lackluster response to increased friction over the past two years and the shortcomings of the dispute management mechanisms it has put in place with the PRC; and third, the implications of rising tensions on regional stability.

PART I: WHY ARE TENSIONS ON THE RISE IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA?

In the first half of this decade the South China Sea dispute moved to the back burner of Asian security concerns. This was partly due to the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001 which put the spotlight on the threat posed by transnational terrorist groups, and the subsequent US-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mainly, however, the relaxation in tensions in the South China Sea can be attributed to the more flexible and accommodating stance adopted by the PRC. Cognizant that its assertive posture in the South China throughout the 1990s had fueled fears of a “China threat” in Southeast Asia, in 1999 Beijing agreed to discuss the problem with ASEAN in a multilateral setting. These discussions led to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC). The DoC was one component of China’s “charm offensive” towards Southeast Asia, a diplomatic campaign designed to assuage regional fears over its rising political, economic and military power — other measures included the 2001 proposal to establish a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) and China’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in 2003, ASEAN’s 1976 non-aggression pact..."

While the intent seems to be for joint development, China has not really been successful in putting the proposal into practice.  This no doubt is not just a problem of China alone. However, as far as China is concerned, perhaps it would be helpful if it could put in more effort to take the lead in promoting joint development. As the largest claimant state and a rising power in the Asia Pacific and the world, China will be able to exert much more influence if it is seen to be working hard on having joint development in the South China Sea. One may recall that when China made the strategic and political move to work with ASEAN on establishing the ACFTA, Premier Zhu Rongji, supported by President Jiang Zemin, was determined to push through the web of political and bureaucratic hurdles at home to make sure that the agreement in this regard, namely, the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, could be signed in 2002. As noted earlier, this made China the first major power to sign such an agreement with ASEAN at a time when the latter was still trying hard to make a comeback in international and regional affairs after the Asian Financial Crisis..."

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