By Eileen Han, Editor – Asia Pacific Daily
The South China Sea, long considered as a territory vast in resources and economic promise, has also been the site of a seemingly brewing proxy war of souring relations and encroaching foreign powers.
However, this raises a question. Should attention and valuable time be wasted on something that should not have been an issue in the first place?
The rising tensions should be partially blamed on the disruption of those big powers which have no claim to the territory, McKinney said.
He explained that broadly, the South China Sea matters. For example, in 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interjected the U.S. in the South China Sea dispute as a precursor to her “pivot.”
Meanwhile, the South China Sea, in a sense, has become a maritime might arena between China, a new rising power, and the United States, an existing global entity. The virtual tussle between China and the encroaching presence of the United States in the region has put tensions at a new height. Despite having a whole ocean to separate the US and thousands of kilometers to boot, the Americans still have a lingering presence in an area that only Asians should be concerned about.
China undoubtedly has become the fastest-rising global superpower in the last few decades. It has long since shared its wealth of resources, friendly diplomatic ties, and collection of invaluable industry knowledge on many fronts with its Asian neighbors.
In recent years, China has worked with countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC. There has been irrefutable progress made in the said declaration which paved the way for active consultations among the member states.
Philippine experts believe that the South China Sea is a shared home of countries in the region, not a political or military arena of a few countries. Unity and cooperation will carry the day, and all troublemakers will only be passers-by in history. In order to promote peace and prosperity in the region, talks and eventual solutions should come and stay only between the concerned parties.
Now, who really is the credible entity to mitigate the situation?
Lee Teck Chuan from the Straits Times opines that the ASEAN has the moral authority to settle the issue. China has long been allied to the ASEAN region, having been a key figure in the development of the region with pivotal economic investments and cultural exchanges to further the unilateral relations between China and the ASEAN.
“That Asean’s unity may be fragmented by the South China Sea disputes is ominous for the well-being of the region. Thus, Asean should not be politicised. All members should commit to its original mission. The prospect of reverting to a Third World backwater is unfathomable,” he explained.
Not only do experts think that achieving peace and prosperity in the South China Sea involves neighboring states in the region, but as well world leaders. Take for instance Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines President from 2016 until July of 2022.
Duterte, according to Richard J. Heydarian, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the De La Salle University in Manila, has “consistently called for pragmatic and bilateral engagement with China, a direct contrast to his predecessor, Benigno Aquino’s confrontational strategy.”
“In a bizarre turn of events, Duterte had turned his ire on America, threatening to sever bilateral ties, shortly after the Obama administration criticized his war on drugs,” added Heydarian.
This is led to improved Sino-Filipino ties, decreasing tensions and reopening landmark economic agreements in the process.
Indeed, the solution to an ASEAN-China-led progress in the South China Sea has to come from those who have the most claim, and not those who flex their colonial muscle in a brazen attempt to dislodge regional peace.