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China's actions in South China Sea contradict its words

Human civilisation would be poorer if we were more forgiving of China's provocations in the South China Sea (China not the only one to blame in South China Sea conflict, by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi; June 25).

Beijing's reclamation of islands for military installations violates its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), its Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with Asean, and its rhetoric of a peaceful rise on the global stage.

This is unlike the other countries, whose claims are largely in step with Unclos.

With trillions of dollars worth of trade passing through the South China Sea annually, the global community has every cause to be concerned and respond to China's attempts to upset the status quo.

A series of pushbacks is already taking place, including Vietnam's actions and the United States' freedom of navigation exercises. Incidentally, the involvement of the latter is fully compliant with international norms.

An eventual Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and Asean can help to manage rising tensions.

However, it is clearly inadequate for overall peace-building in an area where Chinese maritime activities are also aimed squarely at America and its "friends", especially Taiwan, which remains a "de facto" contestant in the sea dispute.

Hopefully, all parties can commit to resolve their competing claims according to enlightened self-interests and international law, including the demilitarisation of tensions, without further distractions.

No country should be under any illusion that it can mock a rules-based world order without risking its own national security.

The realisation of the Asia-Pacific region's potential in this age of greater interconnectivity and interdependence will depend largely on the triumph of inclusive wisdom over puny chauvinism.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'China's actions in South China Sea contradict its words'. Print Edition | Subscribe