The role of the United States as a balancer is also welcomed to the extent that she can engage China not only economically but also constrain, if not contain, possible power-projecting ambitions, uncertain intentions and lack of military transparency—all symptoms of increasing aggressiveness. The conventional wisdom is that while China’s rapidly growing military acquisition and capabilities may not pose a threat now, it may be in the future, given that Beijing has not given clear assurances of its long term objectives in the region. The current status quo can also be easily be undermined by political upheavals in China such as the creation of a Bushido class within the People’s Liberation Army.
Chinese territorial claims over the Spratlys, even going so far as to build a structure on the Mischief Reef within the 200-mile exclusive zone of the Philippines and recent activities have made the United States and Asean increasingly suspicious of Chinese intentions and strategic plans.
Need for a cooperative solution
A cooperative solution is needed now to reduce tension and possible regional instability. There should be apparent a convergence of interest in such a solution. If Beijing were to throw its weight behind a plan, it could allay Southeast Asian fears about possible Chinese hegemony and prevent further common ground emerging between Vietnam and the other Asen countries in their opposition to Chinese claims. For Vietnam, it would be an opportunity to improve relations with China and to demonstrate to other Asean members its sincerity in avoiding conflict. Joint development would offer the Philippines and Malaysia a way of sharing in any resources that might be found in the Spratlys while avoiding a costly defence build-up and a military position they could not possibly defend.
A negotiated solution a la North Sea Gas condominium development would most appropriately allow all the contending powers to share jointly in exploiting the area’s resources, while putting the sovereignty question on hold indefinitely. All claimants would set aside their claims and establish a multilateral management authority. The authority would administer the contested area. This scenario would require all claimants to set aside their “historic” claims to most of the sea. In return, they could be rewarded with shares in the authority, the percentages of which will of course be the subject of negotiations.
Such a solution would leave the sovereignty question officially unresolved but placed in the backburner for continuing negotiations. In any case, nobody would have much incentive to push the matter far, since they would all be sharing in the proceeds of developing the disputed waters, and continuing conflict would scare off investors. Indeed, the various claimants would be working together to pursue exploration, develop resources, manage fisheries and maintain environment quality. Such cooperation could greatly lessen, if not eliminate altogether, the chance of miscalculation and dangerous confrontations. Other powers not party to the dispute—like the United States and Japan— would be highly supportive, since safety and freedom of navigation would be assured.
The Asean Declaration on the South China Sea and the Asean Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia could serve as the basis and framework for negotiations. First might be a formal pact not to threaten or use force. Then the level of military activity could be limited by agreement and the size of forces frozen.
Many attempts have been made to calm the brewing South China Sea issue. Diplomats and scholars views, however, converged on the following prerequisites necessary for confidence building preceding a final solution. These are:
• The need to give due recognition to the territorial sovereignty and sovereign integrity of each and every disputant;
• The resolution of these territorial disputes through peaceful means;
• The avoidance of overt military activities (such as the establishment of military bases) and fortifications which can be considered as provocative should be banned from this region; and
• The observance of the principles of justice with equity by all countries and all peoples in the development of the areas resources which should be done in cooperative manner.