Wednesday 05 Oct 2022 | 06:21 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 05 Oct 2022 | 06:21 | SYDNEY

China doesn't need Australia help


Malcolm Cook

19 August 2010 15:10

Thanks to Shen Dingli for his provocative post on the PRC's claims in the South China Sea and Taiwan, and what role Australia can play.

As one would expect, it repeats the long-held PRC advice to Canberra that the best way for Australia to engage in Asia is to differentiate itself from the US – or at least, from PRC views of what the US is doing in Asia. This, of course, is at odds with the historical record that the ANZUS alliance has been a key plank for Australia's engagement with Asia, one that is growing longer and stronger with mounting Asian concerns about the PRC's power and assertiveness.

I agree with Shen Dingli that all claimants to the South China Sea 'should abide by The Code of Conduct in the South China Sea signed in 2002, which excludes the use of force'. If only there was such a code. What the PRC signed with the ten states of ASEAN in 2002 was a non-binding, non-enforceable Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The last article of this declaration states: 'The Parties concerned reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual attainment of this objective.' Alas, eight years later, there is still no such Code of Conduct, with many observers in Southeast Asia questioning the PRC's commitment to negotiating one.

Recent actions by the PRC (not mentioned in Shen's post) have simply added to this questioning of its intentions. Beijing's sudden elevation of its disputed South China Sea claims to the list of sovereign 'core interests' (seemingly without consulting or warning the other claimants) could mean that Beijing will now be even less amenable to managing these claims through a multilateral code of conduct. It is worth noting that the other long-standing 'core interests' are Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Recent comments by PRC Foreign Minister in favour of 'bilateral negotiations' did not help either.

China does not need Australia's help in managing its relations with Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea. It just needs to work hard with them to turn the 2002 Declaration into a binding regional code of conduct and not take actions in the meantime that run counter to its 2002 commitments.

As Minxin Pei notes, this would 'shut the US up', as this is what Clinton called for at the ASEAN Regional Forum. Such a change of course would also reassure Southeast Asian claimants and Australia of the PRC's intentions in the South China Sea.

Photo by Flickr user original_MikZ, used under a Creative Commons license.