East Asia needs partners, not meddlers (commentary)

By Liu Chang–

BEIJING, July 24 (Xinhua) — The Asia-Pacific boasts the world’s most dynamic economies, highly lucrative markets and captivating cultural diversity. It could well become the future of the world. Yet some meddlers are jeopardizing that prospect.

Starting from Sunday, foreign ministers of the East Asia Summit countries will be under the same roof in the Laotian capital of Vientiane for a series of meetings. The coming days are a chance for the top diplomats to start engaging in damage control after the recent null and void award on the South China Sea arbitration, a blow to peace and stability in the region.

Worryingly, the arbitration, a unilateral move by the Philippines, has set a fraught and dangerous precedent of mishandling maritime disputes. Worse still, a handful of countries within and outside the region have urged China to follow the ruling by a highly questionable arbitral tribunal in The Hague, which has clearly acted beyond its jurisdiction. The ruling by no means helps solving the problem by peaceful ways and only serves to increase the likelihood of confrontation and turbulence.

In a latest positive sign, former Philippine President Fidel Ramos has accepted the offer of President Rodrigo Duterte to be special envoy to China, opening the possibility of dialogue between Beijing and Manila. It is a testimony that the South China Sea disputes can be solved by directly involved parties, without the interference from outsiders.

Still, the risks of rising tensions, fanned by a few countries may not be underestimated.

Despite Washington’s denial, it clearly has a hand in this. During the past eight years, the Obama administration has mostly seen China as a potential challenger to its “leadership” in the region and has been seeking to curb its rise with its iconic “Pivot to Asia” policy.

By excluding China, the world’s second-largest economy, from the Trans-Pacific Pact, Washington tries to be the only one who wears the pants in the region.

Meanwhile, the United States has left no stone unturned to sow discord between China and its neighbors. In the South China Sea, the United States paints China as a threat to freedom of navigation and accuses it of weaponizing the area. On the Korean Peninsula, it, under the pretext of deterring the missile menace from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has managed to get the Blue House to okay its deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea. As the U.S. surveillance range penetrates deep into Chinese territories, tensions between Beijing and Seoul are flaring.

Japan is also good at muddying the waters. Tokyo tries to pressure Beijing on the South China Sea front, hoping that China will not be resourceful enough to handle the island contention in the East China Sea simultaneously. However, this tactic of distraction will not pay off given China’s determination and capability to defend its territorial integrity.

The firebrands need to be careful of what they wish for. Their strategy of fanning China-phobia is only going to instigate distrust and disorder, and invite recession to the region, while their own security and economic interests will suffer heavy setbacks.

As for the East Asian nations, they have to stay vigilant about the U.S. foray into the region, and should refuse to be used as pawns in Washington’s geopolitical board game. One would believe that the leaders of these nations would be wise enough to at least learn some lessons from the disgraceful Iraqi war and the following bloody interference in Libya and Syria that have turned almost the entire Middle East upside down and fostered the emergence of global terrorism’s new standard-bearer, the Islamic State group.

Right now, the global economic recovery is still weak and unbalanced, while Asia’s economies are also facing serious challenges. To get out of the economic wilderness, the East Asian nations need to forge even stronger partnerships, and turn away from ill-intentioned troublemakers.

China is the top trading partner of many East Asian nations, including most of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, while their past economic transactions have proved mutually rewarding.

As Beijing is getting ready to promote its Belt and Road Initiative, its neighbors would reap far more tangible benefits if they choose to broaden their cooperation with China, a market no country can afford to lose.


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