In an interview with the Manila Times earlier this month, Le Luong Minh, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a veteran Vietnamese diplomat, made tendentious comments. He claimed that China’s nine-dashed line policy in the South China Sea is “not binding,” adding that China’s “illegal occupation” of islands further complicated the situation and affected the integration process of ASEAN.

When Le assumed the post of ASEAN secretary-general, he stated that ASEAN played a neutral role in the South China Sea issue and its position was reflected in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on the 10th Anniversary of the DOC in the South China Sea.

Le’s recent remarks depart from his previous position and are incompatible with his identity as ASEAN secretary-general. After all, as a former deputy foreign minister of Vietnam, he is tilted in favor of Hanoi in the South China Sea issue.

As a regional organization, ASEAN is not a concerned party in the issue of the South China Sea. It is some ASEAN member states that have disputes with China over the sovereignty of islands and their surrounding waters. Le’s declaration has damaged the whole of ASEAN in the parochial interests of a few ASEAN nations, which will consequently affect the building of an ASEAN community and damage its own interests.

In fact, the term nine-dashed line is rarely used nowadays. Instead, Chinese authorities call it the dotted line because the nine-dashed line cannot demonstrate China’s sovereignty over underwater sandy beaches and shoals in a comprehensive way.

The dotted line in the South China Sea demarcates China’s maritime border and has abundant historical evidence and an international legal basis. When the map including the line was published in 1947, the international community made no objections and nations surrounding the South China Sea did not lodge any protests. Since then, maps of important international organizations have noted that the waters and islands contained in the dotted line belong to China.

During the Cold War, countries around the South China Sea encroached on many islets and reefs due to various reasons, but the Chinese government never recognized their acts.

The current disputes are not stirred up by Beijing but kindled by complicated international political factors.

At present, China holds a dual-track approach to resolving the South China Sea issue, meaning specific disputes will be addressed by countries directly concerned and peace and stability in the region be jointly maintained by both China and ASEAN members.

Beijing is actively urging relevant parties to observe the DOC and promoting the formulation process of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

By taking a spectrum of measures, Beijing aims at mitigating the unfolding feuds to prevent them obstructing China-ASEAN cooperation and especially the ASEAN integration process China has been proactively pushing forward. China-ASEAN collaboration has been playing a leading role in the “ASEAN plus one” framework and in the development of free trade areas, financial cooperation and the establishment of strategic partnerships.

However, deluded by certain powers, some ASEAN nations have begun to spread a new “China threat” theory and cooperate closely with external forces to stir trouble over the South China Sea. In fact, they are the stumbling block on ASEAN’s road to integration.

This year is the Year of ASEAN-China Maritime Cooperation. The two sides have forged bilateral and multilateral maritime cooperation mechanisms and achieved substantial results in marine science and technology, conservation, salvage and port construction. There is every reason to believe that they will further deepen mutual trust in the year of maritime cooperation.

The experience of China-ASEAN cooperation shows that as long as the two sides comply with principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit and cooperation on an equal footing, the COC will eventually be laid down and a friendship treaty will be clinched.

In this way, China and ASEAN will march toward building a community of common destiny. –Xu Liping Source:Global Times