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Editorial

Asean central


What a difference a year—or, more to the point, a new host—makes. At around this time last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reeled from an unexpected scandal: the failure for the first time to issue a joint communiqué after a leaders’ summit. China had pressured host Cambodia, its close ally, not to allow any mention of the South China Sea disputes in the traditional closing statement; both the Philippines and Vietnam vigorously objected, but in the end Cambodia chose to side, not with its Asean partners, but with China.

Chinese overreach had immediate regional consequences. Beijing’s aggressive conduct in the South China Sea attracted renewed international attention. Cambodia felt the urgent need to repair its relations with neighboring Vietnam, one of the claimant countries. Not least, the largest Asean member, Indonesia, began a form of shuttle diplomacy, with support from Singapore, to try to repair the unexpected damage to Asean unity.

This Indonesian initiative, it became clear over the weekend, during the Asean summit hosted by Brunei, has effectively strengthened Asean’s resolve to commit China to a binding “code of conduct,” one which will govern maritime disputes as well as maritime cooperation in the region.

“We have to have the code of conduct,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Bandar Seri Begawan. “Otherwise, uncertainty will prevail.”

With new Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi taking part in Asean exchanges for the first time, the association reached an agreement with Beijing to begin official consultations on the code of conduct, to lead to formal talks in September.

The language of the communiqué is worth a close read. The 90th paragraph of a 98-paragraph communiqué reads in full: “We discussed the situation and recent developments in the South China Sea. In this regard, we appreciated the exchange of views on the issues including initiatives and approaches to enhance trust, confidence and dialogue, and address incidents in the South China Sea. We also noted suggestions for a hotline of communication, as well as search and rescue of persons and vessels in distress. We further reaffirmed the importance of peace, stability, and maritime security in the region. We underscored the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on the 10th Anniversary of the DOC. In this regard, we reaffirmed the collective commitments under the DOC to ensuring the resolution of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, without resorting to the threat or use of force, while exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities.”

This is exactly the Philippine position, and it is good to see it restated in an official Asean statement. Even more important for resolving regional tensions is the last sentence of the next paragraph: “Taking into account the importance of the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership in 2013, we look forward to the formal consultations between ASEAN and China at the SOM [Senior Officials’ Meeting] level on the COC [Code of Conduct] with an aim to reach an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will serve to enhance peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

It may be that Cambodia has realized that its membership in the Asean loses much of its potency if it is perceived as a mere Chinese proxy; it may be that Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei has put his entire weight behind the Indonesian initiative; it may be that Chinese assertiveness in advancing its claims to almost the entire South China Sea, and the refusal of both the Philippines and Vietnam to back down, has had the effect of strengthening Asean conviction about its “centrality in the evolving regional architecture”—in the words of the communiqué.

Whatever the reason, China has finally heard from Asean again on the vexing issue of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea. That is no small thing.


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Tags: Asean , China , code of conduct , editorial , south china sea dispute

  • kayanatwo

    04jul2013

    nobody asked me,,but… the south china sea is where countries such as vietnam, malaysia and the philippines face “Finlandization” by china. already, kampuchea (cambodia) is on board and on track.

    and UNCLOS is not fully recognized by indonesia. because under indonesian interpretation on 1 of the principles ” under the innocent passage through territorial waters”,, “is whether the rights of innocent passage applies to warships”… “under the indonesian interpretation of these norms, “submarines must sail on the surface, weapons and surveillance radars must be switch off and aircraft carriers must keep their planes on deck”…and the united states do not accept the terms.

    and even though the united states recognized UNCLOS it has not ratified it. two of the many reason are the “national sovereignty and navigation rights not threatened”.

    we could only hope that the “code of conduct” among asean countries would stop the “Finlandization” strategy by china?????.

    • tlb6432

      what is finlandization?

      • kayanatwo

        04july13

        finlandization is the by by product of the “cold war”, and some political analyst still used it to describe political hegemony between a small country and a super-power country..

        the former USSR exert its economic and political power to its (small country ) neighbor Finland during the height of the cold war. for Finland, it was a form of political, economic and domestic survival that made Finland NOT to lose her sovereignty, even if Finland has to “kowtow” to communist russia.. same thing what kampuchea now is with china.

      • chrissunner

        hey somebody asked you. finally.

  • tlb6432

    about time..

  • cry_freedom

    Cambodia wanted to ‘Balkanize’ the ASEAN last year. It miserably failed.

    If it continues to be a lackey of China, then it is being true to its other name Kampuchea (kampo nang china), but it will become the laughingstock of the region.

    It might as well be true to its official name Cambodia (come, bide in awe!) and it will surely bring its people closer to the rest of the region.

  • Philcruz

    Finally, the ASEAN is standing up to the China Bully. It had to take the Philippines primarily to get things moving.

  • Guest

    Ever word counts. Every little character counts. For a puny island rogue nation like the Philippines, it certainly must count. For dwelling on the small things is what small rogue nations like the Philippines can only do. Big superpowers like us China take care of the bigger picture. We take care of the bigger stuff.

    Long Live China! Long Live Sinosphere!

    • antoncervantesjr

      Why so bitter?

      Chinese-Filipino living in Canada, so much time on you hands, just trolling the news forums. Commendable how informed and educated you seem. Just lacking in manners.

    • Gyrating Monkey

      Rogue nation? The only rogue nation is Taiwan. Besides, you lived in this “rogue nation”. Now why did you have to go to Canada instead of China? Wrong “C”?

      In a school yard, China would be taught to pick on somebody their own size. The Philippines is nothing. That’s why it chose the Philippines most especially because it is nothing. Why not go back to China…encourage your mates there….whip up a frenzy and do what you will?

    • Jan

      always remember David versus Goliath. History will repeat itself, defenders against oppressors, the former prevails against the latter!!!!

    • magiting78

      I’ll gonna stub your mouth my hard dick……lol

  • http://somewhere.com/ FMN

    ASEAN needs to toughen up

  • Jan

    china may not totally break the oneness of the ASEAN region. host Brunei had shown ASEAN centrality to make the issue be resolved in West Philippine Sea though in a turtle-pace setting. china is bound to accede matters pertaining to the COC drafting in order to attain peaceful resolution over the dispute. At this instance 9-dash line may possibly be undertaken and freedom of navigation thus erasing the china’s dream of owning the entire SCS. what china’s next move over it?!!!



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