David Firestein Discusses Rising Tensions in the South China Sea and Practical Policies to Avoid Military Conflict

HOUSTON, April 5, 2016 — On March 30, Asia Society Texas Center hosted David J. Firestein, Perot Fellow and Sr. Vice President for the Strategic Trust-Building Initiative and Track 2 Diplomacy at the EastWest Institute, for a discussion on the rising tensions and security issues in the South China Sea. According to Firestein, “In the foreseeable future there is no way for the foundation of the issue to be resolved to the satisfaction of all of the claimants.” He went on to highlight the South China Sea’s importance as an avenue for over five trillion dollars in global trade, its significant energy and mineral resources, and its importance for fishing industries. He noted China’s interest in gaining “strategic depth” in the waters as a buffer zone and the incompatible U.S. goal of maintaining freedom of navigation.

Firestein endorsed practical policies for the U.S. and China, saying that the U.S. Government should ratify its membership in the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that China should specifically outline the coordinates of the nine dash line. He then suggested that both countries should “enhance and increase military to military communication” in order to avoid escalation through misinterpretation. He rejected the notion that these security issues are likely to erupt into open conflict saying, “I don’t fear accidental war because there has never been one.” Firestein believes military escalation cannot be avoided, but military conflict can be avoided; the policy goal should be situational management.



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