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Dialogue and the Deep Blue Sea

NEW YORK – A Chinese patrol vessel’s attack on a Vietnamese fishing boat last week is just the latest incident demonstrating Asia’s urgent need to act swiftly, together with the United States, to develop a mechanism for managing territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Neither side can afford to let Asia – a driving force of the global economy – be derailed by an escalation of the maritime conflict.

Avoiding an adverse outcome will depend on claimant states’ willingness to place a high priority on strategic cooperation – including on energy exploration, fishing rights, and the maintenance of open sea-lanes. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – which seeks to unite Southeast Asian governments and key external partners, including China, along economic lines – should be allowed to facilitate the dialogue that is needed. After last year’s ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where efforts to issue a joint communiqué reached an impasse, Asia’s leaders must demonstrate a renewed determination to achieve effective regional cooperation.