One cannot deny the importance ofSouth China Sea to its bordering countries. It is crucial for the developmentof their economy due to its strategic location and abundant natural resources.Countries around it must therefore be willing to reconcile their history,geography and sovereignty in order to collectively achieve development. Afterall, given the semi-enclosed characteristic of the South China Sea, theconcerned countries have no choice but to cooperate with each other to solvethe issue (Bao & Zhu, 2009; Bateman, 2009). With the current trend towardsdialogue, as can be seen from the initiative of Indonesia and China to hostconferences and also from the improving China-Philippines relations,cooperation in this region is clearly at the horizon.
Understanding and communication areamong the important factors needed in solving this dispute or at least ineasing the tension between bordering countries. It has been proven by theimproving relationship of Malaysia with China where Malaysia chooses to engagein bilateral negotiations rather than internationalizing the territorialdispute like what the Philippines did in 2013. Malaysia is now extractingresources in the disputed territory while having negotiations with Chinaregarding the issue while the Philippines, on the other hand, experiencedblockades and decline on negotiations from China from 2010 to 2016 (Yoshihara,2012; Ellis, 2017). As Kreuzer (2016) argued, this is due the fact thatMalaysia is recognizing China’s self-role and world order conception ofsuperior civilizational state and non-interference while the Philippineschooses to challenge it. There is obviously a lack of understanding theSino-centric perspective on the part of the Philippines during Aquinoadministration (2010-2016). Good thing that the Duterte administration today istrying to enhance its relationship with China which resulted to renewed bilateraldialogues and major infrastructure projects.
This again validates our argumentthat communication and understanding are both needed if one would like toproperly address the dispute. Even though one might argue that even with theimproving relationship of China and Philippines, the former still continues todisrespect the latter by continuing to improve its military bases, still no onecan disregard the fact that at least with today’s situation, Philippines cannow talk to China and have its help on matters like infrastructure building.This is much better than the military aggression and decline of diplomatictalks in the past when the Philippines chooses to play the role of Davidagainst the Goliath China.
With China as the emerging superpower in the region(Goldstein & Murray, 2009), it is therefore important to know whatmotivates China to act on issues such as the territorial disputes for us tohave a complete picture of the situation. It is only with this complete picturewhere a country can understand China and properly communicate with it tomaintain peace in the region. This must also be the same reason why scholarsand military experts should refrain from focusing too much on the materialdimension of the issue for this will create an impression to the readers thatthe South China Sea territorial dispute is just a battle for resources. ShicunWu (2009), Keyuan Zou (2009) and Sam Ellis (2017) are few among the manyscholars who seem to disregard the non-material factors affecting the issue.
Althoughmuch of their arguments are valid, it will not give readers a complete grasp ofthe dispute. It is in the works of Toshi Yoshihara (2012) and Peter Kreuzer(2016) where the gaps are filled and the puzzle became complete by focusing onthe Sino-centric perspective to explain the actions of China — something thatis still new to the literature and needs more attention.