Trust is what China needs to build

China is doing its credibility no favours by repeatedly obfuscating "truth and falsehood" (China slams remarks from US and Japan; June 5).

This duplicity is best expressed by its reclamation and militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea - illegal features that have subverted the marine ecology in the area, and which China had ironically deemed "a green project" initially for better environmental forecasting to deflect concerns - while its diplomats iron out a Code of Conduct with Asean, agreeing not to undertake provocative actions and inflame tensions.

Such a cynical assertion of power based on grandiose irredentism has no place in international law.

China's growing use of economic reprisals to deal with its geopolitical spats can only increase the risk of doing business with it and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

More than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade currently passes through the South China Sea every year. These international waterways are bound by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and belong to the global community, not just the claimant states.

They remain integral to the BRI's success, even though Beijing has mounted several projects on multimodal logistical infrastructure to divert trade flows away from the Strait of Malacca and Singapore for various reasons.

If China is truly sincere about sustaining its peaceful development in a rules-based world where big and small countries can thrive on the same stage, it will seek to demilitarise tensions in the South China Sea with all relevant parties, and focus on contributing to a more inclusive and sustainable world order according to President Xi Jinping's recent speeches on free trade and globalisation.

Asia's massive developmental needs are being addressed by a variety of initiatives, including the BRI.

It would be a tragedy if large funds are wasted on building needless security ballasts for war, when capital should be channelled to worthy "trust-building" infrastructural projects for peace.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Trust is what China needs to build'. Print Edition | Subscribe