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Dr. Tran Cong Truc, MEASURES FOR MAINTENANCE OF PEACE, STABILITY AND ENHANCEMENT OF COOPERATION ON THE SOUTH CHINA SEA ( translated version)

"...The territorial dispute over the Paracels involves Vietnam and China. This dispute arose at the beginning of the 20th century (in 1909), starting with the brief visit by Commander-in-Chief Ly Chuan to some islands with a short landing on Woody island. This was precisely because the archipelago was under the control and management of France, whose troops were staying in solid garrisons, with facilities in service of the management by the French authority then continuing exercising, on behalf of Vietnam, sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys dating back at least to the 17th century. In 1946, taking advantage of the disarmament of the Japanese troops, the Chinese government sent its troops to occupy the eastern part of the Paracels but then had to retreat when Kuomintang was driven out of the mainland to Taiwan. In 1956, taking advantage of the French withdrawal from Indochina under the Geneva Agreement, and the Vietnamese government’s failure to take over the Paracels, the People’s Republic of China sent its troops to reoccupy the eastern part of the Paracels. In 1974, upon learning that the Sai Gon government’s troops were on the verge of collapse and American expeditionary force was forced to leave South Vietnam, with tacit approval of the American about China’s freedom of action (laisser faire), the People’s Republic of China sent its troops to the western part of the Paracels to seize Sai Gon-held islands. Vietnam, as the state having sovereignty over the Paracels, opposed or publicly protested against each and every move by China. It is “the first State in history to occupy and exercising sovereignty, the occupation exercise are real, peaceful, and in conformity with international law and practices”. Ever since China has made feverish efforts to consolidate and build the Paracels into a vital military base, a springboard for its southwards movement..."

"The political environment in the South China Sea seems to have come a long way from the 1980’s and 1990’s when it was a locus of confrontation and conflict.  Indeed, the China-Vietnam clash of 1988 in which about 70 Vietnamese died, and China’s 1995 occupation and building of structures on the Philippines-claimed Mischief Reef seem like relics of a previous era.  Conflict has given way to co-operation in which China, Vietnam and the Philippines have undertaken co-operative seismic surveys in an agreed area.  But are these advances fundamental and durable – or fragile and temporary?  This brief examines recent developments in this context and suggests steps forward.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed a Declaration on Conduct in which they promised “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force” and “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability”. And China, Vietnam and the Philippines have agreed on a web of bilateral codes of conduct.  All claimants have also agreed to move towards a more formal and legally-binding multilateral Code of Conduct --- but its realization remains out of reach and the declaration has been violated numerous times by several parties thereto.  Indeed, the down-side is that no progress has been made for seven years.  The “soft” nature of the declaration which enabled its acceptance in the first place – it is not a legally binding document – makes it difficult even to raise the issue, let alone exert pressure on fellow signatories to move towards implementation.  Moreover China has now made a proposal which has deadlocked the process --- that there be two prior meetings before an ASEAN –China meeting – one among the four ASEAN claimants (Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam), and one between all of ASEAN.  China remains opposed to internationalization or regionalization of the dispute and would like to prevent or weaken ASEAN solidarity on these issues and continue to address them on a bilateral basis..."

"...
Now a few words about the official positions of Russia.

The South China Sea is situated rather far from Moscow and it seems that its problems must not to be in priorities of Russian foreign policy and interests. But it is not so because Russia is and will be for ever a great maritime power of the Pacific and our country is deeply interested to assure that the region has a sustainable international status with assured freedom of navigation and sea communications.

The APR  represents a sphere of vital interests for Russia. Russia is connected by relations of strategic partnership with China as well as with SRV. Such a partnership is a certain form of organization of common activity of states in fundamental spheres and planned for a longue predictable perspectives and based on the mutual recognition, respect and promotion of each other interests fixed in a treaties and oriented for achievement of common or similar vital objectives.

Just why Russia as other countries of the region is deeply interested in such a way of development of the situation in SCS zone which could permit to keep it in the framework of peaceful mutually respectful negotiations of participants involved in the conflict on all disputable issues’ and could lead to creation in this dangerous region of an atmosphere of peace, stability, mutual trust and cooperation..."

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..."

"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..."

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