Brewing tension in South China Sea

Rashid A Mughal

NORTHEAST Asia is encountering turbulences. The new US president is yet to put his policy toward the region in place, China and Japan are still grappling with historical and territorial disputes. The relationship between China and South Korea is chilled over the deployment of Terminal High Attitude Area Defence system. The North Korean nuclear issue is mired in a deadlock. The once manageable geopolitical situation seems quite vulnerable in the face of external influences.
Given the multiple contradictions China is facing in the region, some observers contend that it is difficult now for China to be proactive in dealing with the situation in Northeast Asia and China has to wait to react until its competitors such as the US have articulated their strategies. But, as more people desire to have better lives in the times of globalization and regional integration. Positive signs are emerging in relationship between China and its neighbours. If China, Japan and South Korea can speed up negotiations on the trilateral Free Trade Agreement( FTA) and finalize it in the near future, it will help form strong regional community in Northeast Asia. To realize the potentials for regional cooperation stakeholders must dispel their mistrust in communication and cooperation. The fact, though, remains that China is going to be a leader to take the initiative in shaping a new order in Northeast Asia.
If China takes the initiative to try to include Japan and South Korea into its “One Belt and One Road” policy, as soon as possible, it will be a major political break through. Japan has,so far, displayed a cautious attitude toward this initiative, and South Korea’s stance is not yet clear. If China Japan and South Korea can jointly build a new system of Asia-Pacific free trade area, which can serve as a model for the construction of a regional cooperative and economic community, it can create a new system of free trade and multilateral cooperation which caters to demand and strategic orientation of the three countries. Therefore, three countries need to break past barriers and make compromises when necessary.
In addition, China, South Korea and Japan can promote the construction of a regional multilateral security pattern. Japan and South Korea resorted to a balancing tactic between China and the US in the areas of economy and security, but now they openly side with the US. All parties should abandon the Cold-War thinking and create an atmosphere of strategic mutual trust. Sincere communication among the three to create a vision for the future may prove effective. After all, China-US relations are the most important to the bilateral relationship in the world.
During former President Barack Obama’s eight year term China-US ties have witnessed significant progress and yielded many achievements, showing that the common interests between the two countries goes far beyond their differences and that cooperation can deliver benefits to the two countries as well as the world. China is always ready to work with the United States to enhance communication and expand cooperation, following the win-win cooperation. However some major irritants remain in between-top on the list being the situation and presence of American forces in the South China Sea.
It has already communicated its concerns over military manoeuvres by US and South Korea in Pohang. The need for maintaining peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and Northern Asia Accords should, however, be No.1 agenda for all the countries of the Region and major players. China has openly expressed its opposition to the deployment in South Korea of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system this year as threat to its security. Russia too is concerned that the deployment would further destabilize the already restive Peninsula. Both, China and Russia, have agreed to step-up their jointly-coordinated efforts in opposition to the deployment.
Tensions in the region are, however, mounting instead of decreasing. US Admiral, James Kilby, abroad USS Carl Vinson, patrolling in the South China Sea, recently said that US will continue to patrol the waters to ensure freedom of navigation and over flights. He reiterated that US has done it in the past and will continue to do it in future too. It, therefore, seems clear that we are heading for another flash point in the South China Sea as the time passes. One can safely say that it is another ticking bomb in the region. With Trump in the white house, world will be watching the situation in South China Sea with utmost concern and uncertainty. One can only hope if reason, prudence, sanity and spirit of peaceful coexistence prevails.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration).

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