Playing hardball with China is counterproductive

I do not dispute Mr Toh Cheng Seong's assessment that China has contravened international agreements with its brazen actions (China's actions in the South China Sea contradict its words; July 2).

However, he has missed the important nuance in my original argument - that continuously casting China as the sole antagonist in the South China Sea dispute is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace.

The moral imperative to chastise and punish countries that step out of line is desirable in principle, but not necessarily effective in the real world.

Countries subjected to the righteous anger of the international community are in fact more likely to shun the diplomatic process than participate in it.

This is especially true of a nation such as China, which views itself as holding the supposed moral high ground in reclaiming "stolen territories", and questions the legitimacy of international law as an allegedly self-serving Western construct.

Chinese national pride is likely to produce feelings of indignity, creating a victim complex that only exacerbates disregard for international norms, and emboldens future hawkishness.

History is filled with countless other examples where "playing hardball" has failed spectacularly.

They range from the rise of the German far-right in response to the harsh terms of Versailles, to the recent Turkish backlash against European allegations of human rights abuses.

Rather than a hard-nosed approach, a softer tack is needed to bring China and the other sparring nations into the fold, so as to achieve a lasting solution to this maritime quagmire.

It would also help to foster respect, rather than resentment, for our rules-based world order.

Let us not forget that the underlying purpose of international conventions is to facilitate conflict mitigation and guide dispute resolution.

A slavish interpretation to the letter, without room for compromise, neglects this ethos and leaves human civilisation all the poorer.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi