'Winner-take-all' tack won't solve Asia rows: US commander
MANILA, Philippines – Compromise, and not a “winner-take-all” attitude, would help resolve worsening maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a visiting US military commander said on Friday, May 23.
Security experts discussed the outlook of security in Asia, emphasizing the need for regional collaboration and the urgency to move towards multilateralism, at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, held for the first time in Manila.
US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Samuel Locklear III said the region had become the world's "most militarized" amid rapid economic growth, deepening the importance of dialogue to ensure the disputes did not lead to armed conflict.
"What's going to underlie that most importantly is a commitment to the rule of law, a commitment to international forums to solve problems and to solve disputes," Locklear told a WEF meeting.
"You can't have winner take all attitude. The future will require compromise, dialogue," he said, referring to China. Right now, he added, "the only person that can contain China is China."
A Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea should have been created a long time ago, agreed analysts, as tensions increase in the ASEAN region amid heightened aggression by China in disputed territories.
Parag Khanna, a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation in Singapore, agreed with the view. “We needed COC yesterday. We need proactive resource sharing, and executing them now rather than waiting for dialogue to emerge.”
Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario also weighed in, acknowledging the need for ASEAN to come up with a COC immediately.
"We are not acting fast enough and there are so many changes happening now. When we finally discuss COC, from what point are we going to discuss it? There are so many changes like movements on claims, build up, construction… once parameters have changed, that will influence COC," she said.
ASEAN signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) with China but because it is not binding, leaders agree it is not enough.
In the recent ASEAN summit, China took center stage as regional leaders issued a joint statement expressing concern over the superpower's recent actions and calling for a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes. There has also been an increased push to finalize the COC among ASEAN leaders.
Locklear cited the reasons for ASEAN to collaborate now more than ever, even if talks surrounding the COC have "been lingering for a while." He cited the rapid economic growth of the region, the rise of China and the need to access resources.
"Once that happened, there was a desire for independent nations to find what their access, their economic zones looked like," he said. "When you lay all this together, it gets very complicated. There are very ambiguous lines."
"Tribunals are making decisions but COC should've been here several years ago because the status quo is changing."
Khanna agreed, saying disputes are growing, "because there was not a need to harness natural resources as urgently as now."
Now that "stakes are higher," he said, he agreed that ASEAN needs to find a way to work together, but expressed concern the region has no "strategic maturity to back [its talks]."
Del Rosario said the challenge lies in being able to balance the interests of each nation with that of the region, something ASEAN has yet to strike and a reality which can lead to divide.
"If ASEAN continues to take its role as a central force…then we might be able to finally create a more stabilizing force in the region," she said. "But if we cannot somehow get a stronghold on an ASEAN regional interest versus our national interest, then we might always get into tension among ourselves."
Aside from the COC, analysts said inclusiveness should be practiced in ways never done before.
Shigeo Iwatani, Secretary General of Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul, said because of diversified cultural forces, ASEAN needs to create a kind of dialogue that will establish collaboration particularly in security.
"My feeling is that it is about time that we should consider to establish certain legally-based institutional framework to talk about political issues," he said. "To create trust among member countries, they can meet as often as they want to talk about these issues….They need a more solid institution."
Del Rosario supported the suggestion, saying there is a need to redefine and reexamine what ASEAN means by regional centrality, especially as interests are changing.
Iwatani acknowledged the difficulty of establishing yet another forum for dialogue.
"It will take time but it is more necessary," he said.
Various ASEAN countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, are in the middle of territorial disputes against China.
In an attempt to settle its dispute with China, specifically over the Spratly Islands, Manila has since filed a pleading before an arbitral tribunal.
Vietnam's own tensions with China have also heightened, following China's provocative move to deploy an oil rig near the Paracel Islands. Vietnam has since condemned China's actions and called for international support. – Rappler.com
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