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ASEAN officials talk about trend for South China Sea issue

August 04, 2011  ,from People's Daily   The agreement on the guidelines for implementing the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," which was concluded by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Indonesia's Bali Island on July 21, has attracted widespread attention. Several ASEAN officials and experts said in interviews with the People's Daily that the agreement will help promote practical future cooperation in the region and ease the tension between related countries.

Secretary-General of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan said, "From the political document ('Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea') to the guidelines, we can jointly carry out some cooperation projects in order to create conditions to peacefully solve the South China Sea issue and enable all sides to protect resources in the South China Sea through cooperation. The future generations will also hope to see such results."

Nazery Khalid, a Malaysian-based maritime analyst, said the agreement on the "guidelines" implies that related parties are more willing to elevate the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" to the level of a code of conduct than ever.

Ian Storey, a research fellow at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies said that the agreement on the "guidelines" is an inspiring progress and has broken the deadlock in negotiations. However, much work needs to be done to ease the tension of each side and promote the cooperation among related parties.

Some experts believe that although China and ASEAN have agreed on guidelines to govern behavior in the resource-rich South China Sea, it will still be a difficult and time-consuming task to resolve the territorial disputes in the sea.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy under the University of New South Wales and an expert on the South China Sea dispute, said that the guidelines are non-binding, but the declaration has laid a foundation for an eventual code of conduct in the South China Sea. Nazery Khalid said the guidelines are full of generalities and need to get down to specifics through further negotiations.

All the experts interviewed hold the same view that all parties involved have been pushing forward cooperation in the South China Sea through various means, including conducting related seminars and establishing a maritime consultation mechanism.

They have also expressed their willingness to jointly develop the sea, but joint development has inevitably complicated matters.

Emmanuel S. de Dios, a professor of economics at the University of the Philippines and an expert on the trade relations between China and the Philippines, said China is bound to play a leading role in the joint development in the South China Sea, given its huge economic clout, massive funds and strong technical capabilities. Now the question arises as to how all parties involved will benefit from joint development.

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