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The past few years have been an eventful period for the South China Sea dispute. The tensions and disputes and the consequential diplomatic pressures exerted on China have prompted an unprecedented debate among the foreign policy community in the country. Chinese policy-makers and analysts seriously reviewed other countries’ policies and deliberated on China’s appropriate responses and future policy options. This paper seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of the Chinese debate on three issues: (1) the ways various schools of thought have viewed the South China Sea dispute, (2) the types of policy proposals made, and (3) areas where consensus and disagreements exist. It also attempts to analyze how the debate relates to China’s official position and actual policy and behaviour in the dispute. From this comprehensive overview, we can derive some useful clues to better understand China’s response to the South China Sea dispute in the coming years.
Four notable themes have emerged from the Chinese debate. First, contrary to the widespread external criticism of China for its growing assertiveness, the predominant view among Chinese analysts is that all the tensions and disputes are mainly attributable to the collusion between the United States and regional claimant states. Second, it has been frequently proposed that China should be more proactive in the South China Sea in order to change its current reactive posture. It has been suggested that China can achieve this goal by taking initiatives in three areas: accelerating exploitation of resources in the South China Sea; restraining the involvement of the United States in the South China Sea issue; and exercising greater flexibility in adopting multilateralism to deal with various non-traditional security challenges in the South China Sea. Third, the majority of Chinese analysts and officials believe that the disputes in the South China Sea in the past few years have led to the worsening of China’s regional security environment. Fourth, there appears to be an emerging consensus that Beijing should practise a South China Sea policy that could be best characterized as non-confrontational assertiveness.
by Pradumna B. Rana,
©2012 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED THE AUTHOR(S) AND THE PUBLISHER