China should heed ASEAN’s concerns if the ‘Asian Century’ is to come about

The Straits Times/Asia News Network

China’s latest rhetorical tactic related to its land reclamation in disputed parts of the South China Sea leaves much to be desired. Clearly, no one is buying the line that the facilities being developed can enhance rescue and relief operations �X all the more because the offer comes with conditions and acceptance would be taken as recognition of China’s claim. If its intentions were truly humanitarian, it would hand over the facilities to a neutral party to administer pending the adjudication of the disputes. In the absence of any assurances, the sheer size of the projects �X with some of the man-made islands big enough for airstrips for fighter jets �X cannot but incite fear in others, particularly those who have overlapping territorial claims with the Asian power. Consequently, one could scarcely blame the world for concluding that China is determined to have its way in the South China Sea and is prepared, when push comes to shove, to keep out claimants by force. ASEAN members at their summit last week were justified in stating jointly that the Chinese reclamation works have ��eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.�� Not surprisingly, the Chinese were quick to counter this with an accusation that ASEAN was interfering in a matter that had nothing to do with the grouping as a whole. It would enhance China’s stature if it adopts a different approach by coming to the table without delay to forge a binding code of conduct to manage the territorial disputes. Leaving matters unresolved while throwing one’s weight around to achieve a fait accompli will only breed distrust and derail the Asian Century.