The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea (DCPSCS), established in 2002, has ceased to exist except in name.
The reason is because some countries are always changing the current situation in South China Sea through economic, legal, and military means. They are willing to cite the declaration when criticizing others for destroying the current situation.
But I'm afraid that this situation won't last.
Those countries that once signed up to the declaration alongside China are planning to make a fresh start and even replace the original declaration with the new declaration on the conduct of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries in the South China Sea.
Undoubtedly, when DCPSCS was born, its goal were noble, and all the signatories agreed on a common purpose.
But today it is only China that follows its restraints while it is ignored by the other countries involved.
So it only encourages some countries to seize wealth that doesn't belong to them.
The South China Sea is not the only place triggering conflicts over sovereignty. But not all countries are scrambling for their interests and preparing for action, as some countries off the South China Sea are doing today.
As the most powerful country in this region, China should shoulder responsibilities for the lost ties of the DCPSCS. China didn't take measures to prevent others from playing dirty tricks or to lead to perform good deeds to preserve the solemnity of the declaration.
DCPSCS outlines countries' promises, but lacks enforcement mechanisms. This is rather similar to many laws in China, which rule on what is unlawful but don't have teeth to punish offenders.
Those countries raising objections over the issues in the South China Sea could hardly be aware of the Chinese government's seriousness.
Even faced with the intense situation in the South China Sea, China still sticks to expanding economic cooperation with those countries with which it is in conflict.
China even holds the idea of setting aside the conflict through economic and trade cooperation.
Thus we could not blame anyone for not taking China's declarations seriously.
No matter how firm the declaration made by China is, without effective sanctions, it won't be any deterrent against those violating the declaration.
Of course, if some countries intrude into China's territorial waters and show their military forces, China may consider taking responding actions.
Some other countries hide in their own territorial waters and show off their guns and artillery. As to these moves, China certainly has no way to punish them.
But under such circumstances, is it still necessary for China to strengthen its economic cooperation with other countries? Aren't we doing business with people who stole from us?
Vietnam is instigating anti-China sentiment domestically, but at the same time, it proposes expanding mutual trade with China to $30 billion every year and greatly increasing exports to China. For Vietnam, taking advantage of China's growth means it doesn't have to pay the price of high unemployment at home.
If the bilateral economic trade relations are damaged, it seems that China will pay a greater price, as it is the chief exporter.
However, the significance of bilateral trade to the two countries is totally different.
Even after losing the $20 billion, China will not suffer from recession. While for the other side, the situation is different.
This doesn't mean that economic weapons should be dragged into conflicts over territory.
But it is not reasonable that when a country buys our goods, it also criticizes us and covets what belongs to us at the same time.
Preserving our sovereignty by economic means is just one possible strategy. It doesn't mean that we exclude other strategies, including military force, to protect our sovereignty.
Ye Hailin is an expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Science.
Source: Global Times