Member nations’ interests are so diverse that a unified response to Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea is proving impossible.

Since the tense naval standoff between the Philippines and China over ownership of the Scarborough Shoal erupted on April 10, the lack of support for Manila from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been striking. Not only has Asean failed to close ranks behind one of its members, there hasn’t been a peep out of the organization on the dispute—one of the most serious in the South China Sea since the mid-1990s.

Asean’s deafening silence is disappointing, but not surprising. The member states are divided on how best to deal with the problem due to differing national interests, including the value they place on their relationships with China. The result is a lack of cohesion and inaction.

The central fault line within Asean is between members who have significant economic and strategic interests in the South China Sea and those who do not. The first group, the littoral states, is composed of the four Asean members who make territorial claims in the South China Sea—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—as well as Indonesia and Singapore.

Even within the littorals, opinions are divided. For Vietnam and the Philippines, their disputes with China over sovereignty of the Spratly Islands and other atolls have become major national security concerns and have driven their recent military modernization programs. Malaysia and Brunei, on the other hand, enjoy the luxury of distance from China and have tended to downplay the dispute. Moreover, the claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei overlap, preventing the four countries from presenting a united front.

Then there are Indonesia and Singapore, who make no territorial claims in the South China Sea, but are alarmed at Beijing’s expansive claims. Indonesia has formally challenged China’s claims at the United Nations, while Singapore has called on China to clarify them.

European Pressphoto AgencyPresident Benigno Aquino of the Philippines.

The second group, the non-littorals, comprises Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand, and they have been noticeably silent about the South China Sea issue. They do not see themselves as having a direct stake in the dispute and do not consider the Spratlys to be a pressing concern. Plus, over the past two decades China has cultivated close political, economic and security ties with these four countries, which their governments do not want to risk damaging by taking positions against Beijing.

Cambodia has been particularly keen to avoid upsetting China. As chair of Asean, this year it proposed keeping the dispute off the organization’s formal agenda. And at a summit meeting in April, Cambodia argued that China should be involved in drafting a binding code of conduct with Asean from the beginning of any conflict resolution management process. Both positions put it firmly at odds with Vietnam and the Philippines.

Asean does at least have a bottom-line consensus on the South China Sea: The dispute should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law and without recourse to force. The organization has also stated that Also, member states and China should pursue confidence-building measures to lower tensions. But beyond this basic statement, differing national perspectives make agreement on how to deal with China, manage the dispute and seek resolution problematic.

These difficulties were brought into sharp relief last year when the Philippines proposed transforming the South China Sea into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation, or ZoPFFC. Manila’s plan was to “enclave” the Spratlys as a disputed area, demilitarize the atolls and then establish a multilateral development agency to jointly manage maritime resources.

The imaginative initiative, however, was a nonstarter. China flatly rejected it on the familiar grounds that the dispute is a bilateral problem that requires a bilateral solution.

But the idea could have still gained some traction had other Asean members supported it, but only Vietnam did. As a matter of policy, Asean does not take a position on the competing claims of its members, nor those of China. To “segregate” the South China Sea into disputed and non-disputed areas, however, Asean would have to come out against China’s claims—which is unacceptable to some members. For all intents and purposes, the ZoPFFC is now dead in the water.

This hasn’t helped intra-Asean relations. The two members at the pointy end of disputes with China, the Philippines and Vietnam, are invariably disappointed with Asean’s wishy-washiness over the South China Sea. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that only Cambodia had suggested China play a role from the get go and that this had led to a “big disagreement.”

Lack of support from within Asean has then led Hanoi and Manila to pursue additional strategies, including closer defense links with Washington. Debate over the role the U.S. should play in the South China Sea dispute exacerbates the divisions within Asean. Some members are concerned that a more proactive role by Washington will simply antagonize China and complicate the search for a resolution.

The South China Sea dispute has moved to the top of Asia’s security agenda. Tensions are likely to increase as competition for oil and gas intensifies and the militarization of the dispute continues apace. Yet the compromises necessary to achieve a negotiated settlement are out of reach, as the claimants have moved to strengthen their jurisdictional claims.

With tensions rising, the weight of expectations on Asean to become proactive and articulate solutions to the dispute will only become heavier. Regrettably, recent events show Asean cannot live up to those expectations and, on current trends, will allow Beijing to pick off individual members.

Mr. Storey is a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. He is the author of “Southeast Asia and the Rise of China: The Search for Security” (Routledge, 2011).

Source: Wall Street Journal

Advertisements

About The Aseanists Time

The Aseanists Time is daily online newspaper and magazine covering on regional politic, economic, and social issues; science and technology, regional leaders, politic and economic in each ASEAN Member States along with ASEAN 6 (United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, and India), regional natural disaster and climate change, regional business, finance and economic statistic and figure. Furthermore, We also cover on top 10 economic countries. Finally, we report ASEAN, EU and UN as well.

2 responses »

  1. wso dan lew says:

    I am extremely impressed along with your writing abilities and also with the layout in your blog. Is that this a paid subject or did you modify it your self? Either way stay up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to peer a great blog like this one nowadays..

  2. Ricky says:

    I’m very pleased to find this page. I need to to thank you for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to see new information in your web site.

    Can I simply just say what a comfort to uncover somebody who genuinely knows what they are talking about over the internet. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people must read this and understand this side of your story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular since you surely have the gift.

    Very nice write-up. I certainly appreciate this website. Keep writing!

    It�s hard to find educated people in this particular topic, but you sound like you know what you�re talking about! Thanks

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the best sites on the net. I’m going to highly recommend this website!

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do think that you ought to write more about this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but generally folks don’t speak about such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!

    Hello there! I simply wish to give you a big thumbs up for your excellent info you’ve got right here on this post. I’ll be returning to your web site for more soon.

    After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there an easy method you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I really thought you’d have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you could possibly fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this web site needs far more attention. I�ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the info!

    You are so awesome! I do not think I have read through anything like that before. So great to find someone with a few original thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

    I enjoy reading through a post that will make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

    Right here is the perfect site for anybody who really wants to understand this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to�HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic that’s been written about for a long time. Great stuff, just wonderful!

    Aw, this was a really good post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate a superb article� but what can I say� I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get anything done.

    I�m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that�s equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which too few people are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I found this during my hunt for something concerning this.

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks, However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I don�t know why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else having the same RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me breakfast due to the fact that I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to discuss this issue here on your internet site.

    After looking at a number of the articles on your web page, I truly appreciate your way of writing a blog. I saved it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon. Take a look at my web site as well and let me know your opinion.

    This page truly has all the information I needed concerning this subject and didn�t know who to ask.

    There is definately a great deal to know about this subject. I love all of the points you’ve made.

    You made some good points there. I looked on the web for more info about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this website.

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always interesting to read through content from other authors and use something from other sites.

    I blog quite often and I really appreciate your content. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I will take a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Thanks for providing this info.

    Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

    Hello there! This blog post could not be written any better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

    Hi, I do think your site could be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Besides that, fantastic site!

    Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

    Hello there! I could have sworn I�ve been to this blog before but after looking at many of the posts I realized it�s new to me. Nonetheless, I�m certainly delighted I found it and I�ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

    I needed to thank you for this excellent read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. I have got you book-marked to look at new stuff you post�

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to return yet again since I book-marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

    Your style is really unique in comparison to other folks I have read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this site.

    I was able to find good advice from your blog posts.

    Excellent article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our site. Keep up the good writing.

    That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate info� Thank you for sharing this one. A must read article!

    I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written!

    Saved as a favorite, I love your website!

    Good article. I will be facing some of these issues as well..

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up and the rest of the site is really good.

    Great site you’ve got here.. It�s difficult to find excellent writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    This is a topic that is close to my heart… Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?

    I absolutely love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I�m looking to create my own personal site and want to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Many thanks!

    I love it when individuals get together and share thoughts. Great site, continue the good work!

    Great information. Lucky me I recently found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

    This site was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me. Thanks a lot!

    Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the challenges. It was definitely informative. Your website is useful. Many thanks for sharing!

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog. I’m hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s