Proposals for South China Sea
By JOSE DE VENECIA JR.
June 8, 2011, 3:41am
(Statement of former Philippine Speaker De Venecia, founding chairman, International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), and founding president, Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI), at the informal dialogue with Vietnam Communist Party leaders in Hanoi on April 18-22, 2011.)
MANILA, Philippines — On behalf of ICAPP – the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, our Co-Chairman Chung Eui-yong and Secretary General of ICAPP, and former Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Special Rapporteur of ICAPP and Secretary General of CAPDI, we congratulate the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people for their achievements during these last 70 years.
After a heroic struggle lasting well over a generation, they have regained their political liberty and restored their geographic and cultural unity, which they have sustained over the centuries.
During this last quarter century, the Vietnamese people have also managed virtually to abolish mass poverty from their historic land.
And now they are poised to become – in ten years’ time – a fully modern industrial nation.
Two decades of rapid but equitable growth
Vietnam has experienced almost two decades of rapid but equitable growth since the now historic Sixth Party Congress of 1986 that started off economic and social reforms reintegrating Vietnam into the global economy.
Already Vietnam is recognized as one of Asia’s most open economies and a favored destination of international investment.
Vietnam is stable and secure in its energy and food resources. It is Southeast Asia’s second-largest exporter of rice – and its third-largest oil producer
Indeed in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia, if we are to win the future we seek for our peoples, we need to preserve the still fragile structures of stability that have enabled East Asia to become the world’s fastest-growing region.
Philippine effort to induce Spratlys cooperation
It is in this spirit that we in the Philippines have tried catalyzing multilateral cooperation in the South China Sea – by promoting a three-way joint seismic survey of disputed areas in the Spratly island chain by the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.
We initiated this project in accordance with a Code of Conduct promulgated between the ASEAN claimants – to turn the South China Sea from an area of conflict into an area of cooperation.
Accordingly, a project called “Joint Oceanographic and Marine Scientific Research Expedition in the South China Sea” was signed in Manila in 2005 by China and the Philippines – and joined by Vietnam.
Philippine claims in what we call the Kalayaan (“Freedom”) group in the Spratlys overlap with those of Malaysia and Vietnam. (The fourth Asean member-state with claims on portions of the South China Sea is Brunei.)
The joint venture between the national oil companies of our three states – to assess the area’s potential for hydrocarbon development – started in 2005, and proceeded without any hitch.
Data-gathering and analysis – finished in 2008 – showed promising initial results.
The joint partners are now consulting on their next moves.
Meanwhile, in recent months,the competing interests of regional powers have raised cross-border tensions in both Northeast Asia and in the South China Sea.
Tensions rising in the China Sea
In Northeast Asia, the rivals peninsular powers – North Korea and South Korea – have nearly come to blows on several occasions.
In the East China Sea, enmities between Beijing and Tokyo have flaredup over uninhabited rocks the Chinese call Daioyu and Japanese call Senkaku.
In the South China Sea, unofficial Chinese sources had raised China’s long-standing claim to 3.5 million square kilometers to rank as a “core interest” – alongside its territorial claims to Taiwan and Tibet.
In reply, Washington defined the “peaceful resolution of the disputes over the Spratly and Paracels group of islands as an American national interest.”
This counter-claim raised the liability of American intervention in the event of another flare-up of local violence there – as had taken place in the Paracels in 1974 and 1988.
Fortunately, Chinese ‘unofficials’ – notably the Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, writing in the March-April 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs – have repudiated “these reckless statements, made with no official authorization.”
Dealing with the sources of today’s tensions
Preventing tensions of this kind from disturbing regional stability is the task primarily of the East Asian community – of the 10 ASEAN states plus the 3 Northeast Asian powers, and we at ICAPP and CAPDI should make a contribution.
But we in ASEAN and ICAPP/CAPDI must do all we can to ensure the test of wills between the great powers in the South China Sea does not turn out to be a case of the “irresistible force meeting the immovable object.”
An optimist’s view of the future world
Despite these apprehensions about our regional future, my personal view of the future is an optimistic one.
I believe that global interdependence, technology, and the emerging power balance offer us the possibility of a future world without great-power wars.
I believe that science, “globalization,” and “people power” – the assertion by everyday people of their political and human rights – are making war obsolete – among the great powers and, increasingly, among all those nations that have linked their economies with that of the international community.
Not only are there more avenues for mutually beneficial contact.
In an increasingly interdependent world, the strategic interests of great powers often coincide – as US-Chinese-Japanese-Russian interests do in the Korean Peninsula.
Hence the great powers ultimately have a stake in each other’s prosperity.
UN Law of the Sea a framework for dealing with conflicting claims
Meanwhile what are we in ASEAN to do about the great power rivalries in the South China Sea?
And if we in ASEAN are to prevent this from happening, we must start at the beginning – by sorting out our own conflicting claims and our differing views of the China-US rivalry.
A framework for dealing legally with the competing claims that all the Southeast Asian states support is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – which regulates the use of all ocean space and its resources.
In its basic philosophy, UNCLOS looks back to the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, whose concept of mare liberum – or “open seas” – declared the high seas as open to all humankind and not subject to the monopolistic claims of any single state or nation.
ASEAN must become a militant – a champion – of the cause of open seas in global councils.
Proposals for discussion
The East Asian community should also work ceaselessly to bind its members together – through projects of regional utility on the model of the Mekong River Development program.
Dear friends, in the course of our dialogue with the Leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam, may I suggest consideration of the following proposals:
1. Continuation of the Vietnam-Philippine-China Seismic Agreement in the South China Sea that should lead to actual drilling for oil and gas with profit-sharing among the claimant nations, demilitarization of the area and withdrawal by armed forces from the military outposts on the disputed islands and isles, and the area’s conversion from a Zone of Conflict to a Zone of Peace
. The major explosions in North Africa and the Middle East, the continuing increases in the price of oil, the long haul for our tankers from the South China Sea, across the Straits of Malacca, the Gulf of Thailand, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Straits of Hormuz and into the major oil-producing areas in the Arab/Persian Gulf are enough impetus for all of us to agree to break the impasse among claimant nations, cooperatively drill for oil and gas in our own front-yard or backyard, and forever avoid the danger of conflict or war in our neighborhood.
This formula of shelving the issue of sovereignty, for the meantime, proposed in the 1980’s by Deng Hsiao Peng, to allow exploration and development to commence under mutually profitable arrangements, could be the same model for the dangerous crisis between China and Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Straits in the East China Sea.
2. The ICAPP parties to ask our governments for the establishment of a modest Rice Stockpile for the ASEAN Nations Plus 3 and the SAARC states, with the major rice growers and consumers of Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and others to insure food security and affordable prices during periods of emergency.
3. Creation of an Asia-wife Infrastructure Fund for East Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia for airports, seaports, highways, markets, power, and agriculture mobilizing public-private partnerships under the BOT program, availing of multilateral concessional lending and legislative appropriations, and foreign and domestic investments.
4. An Asian Regional Summit to re-energize our Governments in the battle against narcotics and the ever-increasing criminal drug trade that poses a mounting threat to our peoples, families, youth and migrant workers.
5. Concerted efforts by the Communist Parties of Vietnam, China, Russia and Laos to bring in the Korean Workers Party of DPRK (North Korea) into the ASEAN Plus Three Program, to avoid its isolation, following the Vietnam and Chinese models of opening up to the world and the unprecedented success of their economies.
6. Continuation of ICAPP’s Anti-Poverty Agenda agreed upon in the Kumning-China Declaration of 2010 and the Anti Climate Change and Disaster Mitigation Conference in Kuala Lumpur on May 5-7, 2011.
I must say there really is no end to the cooperative programs our countries and political parties could venture on – if only we have the will and the heart.
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