[By Liu Rui/Global Times]
China and the ASEAN agreed last Thursday to a set of guidelines to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a treaty signed in 2002 that affirms each country's commitment to settling territorial disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful means.
The one-page guidelines have not been published, but they are believed to serve as an interim step to a Code of Conduct, which is expected to be established later this year at the East Asia Summit.
The declaration makes clear that territorial and jurisdictional disputes exist in the South China Sea, which directly refutes any country's claim is indisputable. Declaration signatories also gave up their right to use military means to change the status quo of the time when the Declaration was made.
Neither the declaration nor the guidelines have resolved any disputes, but they have raised two demands. First, they freeze present disputes to control them in a peaceful way. This means that no country can impose its own will upon others, especially through the use of force. Second, no country can generate new disputes when dealing with fishing and sea-bed resources.
The declaration does not offer peace in the long run. It attains temporary peace for a moment, but it also undermines countries' national interests. Some countries also have not observed it and undertaken new endeavors, such as searching for and exploiting oil resources in disputed waters, leading to escalating conflicts.
The guidelines could help make the declaration more enforceable. Though they are still dispute-control, rather than dispute-resolving, they will promote more positive developments and lead countries to collaborate in dealing with South China Sea matters.
All disputes are related to resource competition. In negotiating a code of conduct, only two outcomes regarding the exploration of sea-bed resources in disputed regions may happen: no development or concerted development.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn For more information please visit http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/shendingli.htm
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