Dialogue and the Deep Blue Sea

A Chinese patrol vessel’s attack on a Vietnamese fishing boat last week highlights the need for Asia, together with the US, to develop a mechanism for managing territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Given Asia's role as an engine of global economic growth, the world has a strong interest in supporting that effort.

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.

But domestic politics is impeding progress, with leaders manipulating nationalist sentiment to distract attention from economic and political uncertainty. As countries hedge US support by cultivating China and other ASEAN members, they might be tempted to exclude some of their neighbors by committing to bilateral agreements behind closed doors.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.