Since at least August last year, China has been officially advocating what officials have called a “dual track approach” with respect to the South China Sea issue. Beijing continues to use this approach in discussions today. Indeed, an entire session at the recent Boao Forum for Asia was devoted to the topic: “South China Sea: Dual Track Approach and Win-Win Cooperation.”
While the approach itself could be dismissed as old wine in new bottles by close observers, it nonetheless deserves critical examination because it may be quite deceiving to the untrained eye.
The dual track, in Beijing’s eyes, envisages: 1) the handling of bilateral disputes by the countries directly concerned through negotiations; 2) the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea through joint efforts of China and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Some Chinese policymakers and academics have also been arguing that the approach is not just unilaterally initiated by China but an agreement of some sort reached between China and ASEAN countries directly concerned about the South China Sea, or that the concept at least enjoys wide recognition and support in Southeast Asia. Before examining that claim, let us first focus on what the approach advocates and why it makes sense for China.