Track Two Diplomacy

Traditional, or ‘track one’, diplomatic initiatives posit an encounter between accredited representatives of sovereign states of the sort which has been practiced by the members of the international community for centuries, if not millennia. It is in this the formal arena, such as the United Nations General Assembly, in which official emissaries engage one another on behalf of their respective states.

Track-Two diplomacy, on the other hand, has no official standing. While participants to ‘track two’ initiatives may be government officials they do not represent any state or government and thus engage one another in their personal capacities. Any conclusions or recommendations emerging from such meetings are in no way binding upon governments, nor are the proceedings of the meetings declamatory of the position of any state. Governments are therefore in the happy position of being able to dismiss conclusions or recommendations they do not like, but free to adopt anything useful which may transpire.

‘Track Two’ in the South China Sea

In the case of the South China Sea the uncertain nature of the formal relationships between the littoral states compromises the regional security and precludes any effective co-ordinated approach to regional problems of marine management. Political pressures tend to focus attention on disputed boundaries at the expense of other issues such as living-resources, the marine environment, and the safety of shipping and navigation. The informality associated with ‘track two’ initiatives allows for discussion and dialogue without being bound by political fetters.

Furthermore, this ‘informality’ provides for a flexibility and inclusiveness that is simply not possible at the formal level. Not only can a broader range of issues be discussed, participants from Chinese Taipei/Taiwan participate on an equal footing. This is not a statement regarding the political aspirations of Chinese Taipei/Taiwan, but rather recognises that in addressing marine management issues the environmental and economic impact of Chinese Taipei/Taiwan should not be ignored.


‘Track two’ diplomacy therefore fills the holes in the long road of formal dialogue by providing a forum for discourse between players and on issues that simply cannot take place at the formal level, but which are needed to advance co-operation and mutual understanding. Consequently, the goal of the MPCSCS is not to ‘solve’ the jurisdictional disputes but rather to address areas of co-operative marine management and thereby promote a political environment more amenable to the resolution of jurisdictional conflicts