The Philippines put the South China Sea dispute on the schedule of the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Tuesday and Wednesday. By putting the South China Sea issue on the table at the summit, the Philippines is trying to employ the regional organization as a new tool to challenge China's sovereignty.
China has long sought to resolve the issue on bilateral basis, but the Philippines and Vietnam have been trying to turn it into a regional issue. In fact, they have been trying to turn it into an international issue by encouraging the United States to become involved.
However, the joint statement released during the visit of President Hu Jintao to Cambodia, which said China and ASEAN countries will continue to abide by the purpose and spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, give full play to all the existing mechanisms, including the Guidelines for the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and facilitate the full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and ensure the success of the workshop on the 10th anniversary of its signing.
Vice-Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday also reaffirmed China's commitment to properly resolving the South China Sea issue with Vietnam.
"The two countries should proceed from the overall and long-term interests and take effective measures to properly handle the South China Sea issue," he said.
Li made the remarks while meeting with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual regional conference in South China's Hainan province. The statement and the remarks are warning to certain countries not to use ASEAN to act against China.
Actually, disputes over the South China Sea are, and have always been, bilateral matters between China and certain neighboring countries. Only in recent years has the US decided to stick its oar in and sought to consolidate its presence in the region with the excuse of "rights of free passage".
The support of the US has encouraged the Philippines and Vietnam to challenge China's sovereignty in the region, and now they are playing the ASEAN card for the same purpose.
However, their efforts are doomed to failure.Except for the few that have territorial disputes, most ASEAN countries have maintained friendly relations with China.
The Philippines and Vietnam continually try to hold negotiations with China over the South China Sea issue at international conferences. As a response China has taken the strategy of agreeing to bilateral negotiations only, and rejecting all attempts to draw in external powers.
There are also domestic reasons for the Philippines and Vietnam raising the issue now: the Philippines is stuck in an economic recession, while Vietnam is battling serious inflation. The governments of both countries are seeking to deflect domestic political pressure by provoking disputes with China.
China has no interest in intervening their domestic politics, but neither can it accept them using domestic politics to violate its interests. China's basic principle on the South China Sea dispute is to solve it through bilateral diplomatic negotiations.
But to ensure its territorial integrity, China will have to do more than simply declare the disputed areas are its territory. It must take action to defend its sovereignty and interests. In the future, China will have to enforce its jurisdiction and punish those that violate its laws. It may be flexible in the actual measures it employs, but it must protect its sovereignty and interests.
Only if China implements its control over the disputed regions, can its sovereignty and interests be defended.
Now China is mapping out a plan for developing tourism on the Xisha Islands, which is not simply an exploration of travel resources, but also more importantly a move to safeguard sovereignty over these islands.
China must use both words and actions to truly defend its interests in the South China Sea. And first of all, China should prevent the Philippines and Vietnam from exploiting the ASEAN platform to internationalize the South China Sea dispute.
The author is a professor of law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.