Scholar urges China, US to use restraint in South China Sea

China should avoid conducting construction activities on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, influential Chinese scholar Wu Shicun has said, offering a suggestion for Beijing and Washington to lower tensions in the South China Sea.

China should also moderate the pace of militarisation of its construction activities and, instead, raise its capability to provide public goods on man-made islands, he said. China has said the lighthouses it built on reclaimed reefs would be used for public good.

As for the United States, Professor Wu said it should exercise restraint when conducting surveillance patrols in waters within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed islands. The US should also not let foreign countries, especially Japan, take part in its freedom of navigation patrols, he said.

He also urged the US not to use the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague's ruling on the South China Sea dispute to put pressure on China, and not to set up military bases or conduct joint military games that target China.

"Both China and the US should also set up a military relationship aimed at avoiding misjudgment, reducing confrontation and managing risks," said Prof Wu, who is president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a government think-tank. He was one of the speakers at the Xiangshan Forum who proposed ways to lower risks in the territorial dispute involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Australia's former prime minister Bob Hawke urged China to have a summit-level meeting of all claimant states and interested parties to explore a new multilateral maritime regime. "It can become a model of constructive leadership that all of us hope China would show in Asia, as it takes a larger role in regional affairs," he said.

But New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee's remarks drew a retort from China. He told a separate plenary session that international law and, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is important to a small maritime trading nation like New Zealand. "We support the arbitral process and believe that countries have the right to seek that international resolution," he said.

This prompted China's former vice-foreign minister Fu Ying to say that involvement by external countries "can only complicate the differences and sometimes even add to the tension".

Kor Kian Beng

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Scholar urges China, US to use restraint in S. China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe