News / Asia

South China Sea Dispute Remains Problem for ASEAN

U.S. President Barack Obama (5th L) participates in a family photo with ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, November 19, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama (5th L) participates in a family photo with ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, November 19, 2012.
Irwin Loy
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] emerged from a key leader summit Tuesday with progress on potential trade alliances and the economy. It still appeared divided, though, on what continues to be a controversial issue: the South China Sea and multiple countries claiming territorial ownership.

Going into this week's leaders summit, ASEAN members had hoped for a resounding show of unity following explosive meetings in July that exposed divisions through the 10-member bloc.

By the end of the summit Tuesday, ASEAN members were claiming some degree of progress on the South China Sea dispute. But the final day of meetings also showed the regional bloc is far from united on the issue.

Philippines take issue

The Philippines, ASEAN’s most outspoken claimant, still objected to how the bloc’s chair, Cambodia, had declared that leaders agreed not to “internationalize” the maritime dispute.

Albert del Rosario is the Philippines’ foreign affairs secretary.

“We think that it is the inherent right of any sovereign country to be able to protect its national interest. So that’s the position we have taken," he said. "As far as we are concerned, the rules on consensus means everyone must be on board. Obviously we’re not on board, so there is no consensus."

China flexes muscle

Four ASEAN countries claim parts of the energy-rich sea. But it is China’s large claim over the sea that has caused disagreements within ASEAN. China in the past has not wanted ASEAN involvement in negotiations concerning the South China Sea.

In July, Cambodia was accused of siding with China on the issue. Any thoughts of a repeat of another public meltdown to end the meetings were quashed Tuesday, however, when Cambodia released a watered down chairman’s statement summarizing the week’s discussions.

“On the issue of the South China Sea, ASEAN leaders agreed to continue to address this issue in the existing ASEAN-China framework,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking through an interpreter.

Officals stress unity

ASEAN officials also were downplaying any disagreements on the issue.

“I think it’s a matter of interpretation," said Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN’s secretary general. "As far as I am concerned there is a consensus that we would like to pursue the issue without having it affecting other constructive, other positive momentum that we are trying to create, that we have achieved here so that we can look into the future. We can look into the horizon that a lot of potentials must be harvested for all of us now. If the interpretation would obstruct my rights to pursue my interest into the future through other channels that was not it was meant. It meant that you have all the rights whatever member state but here we are trying to pursue it within the framework of cooperation, framework of coordination and we will be conscious of the fact that we have a larger agenda up in front of us.”

Consensus or not, ASEAN says there is a renewed commitment to implementing a decade-old Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, known as a DOC - a broad pledge to resolve the matter through peaceful means.

But the bloc appears no closer to actually solving the territorial dispute. With the conclusion of another leaders’ meeting, countries are still unable to peg a timeline to begin negotiations on a long-elusive Code of Conduct [COC], that might settle the dispute.

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Comment Sorting
by: Manh from: Hanoi, Vietnam
November 22, 2012 11:40 PM
This is not South China Sea, if we can call it in English, It's East Sea, and in Vietnamese, we call it "Biển Đông", it not belong to China, it is sea of ASEAN

by: timothy dixon from: usa
November 22, 2012 12:49 PM
The world is headed on a one way no return ticket to all out war the bible is coming to past in record time JESUS said lest I shorten the days there would be no flesh standing this is a shame but when greed the fruits of flesh lead the way there can no hope come from man there is not one man on earth that is righteous no not one i pray for CHINA and all of ASIA let there be a great revival LORD that your name be lifted up for we are in true need of you for all you have done keep a hedge around the Innocent GOD BLESS

by: Anonymous from: Philippines
November 21, 2012 11:14 AM
Good job by Pres. Aquino III in asserting our sovereignity. For the record, Panatag Shoal/Reef (Scarborough Shoal/Reef) is not an island (duh). those uninhabitable rocks lie within our EEZ. the Philippines is clearly in the right.

SCS always had territories with multiple claimants, but is handled peacefully through discourse. I can clearly recall - there was peace until China.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: Philippines
November 24, 2012 3:17 AM
China is a signatory of UNCLOS and COC, and it now wants to use "history facts" to claim territory. And the so-called nine dash line looks provocative enough that no one will ever side on China.
In Response

by: Sun from: Taipei
November 21, 2012 10:26 PM
@爱中国. You must learn genuine history of China. In 1644, Han-tribe Ming was conquered by Qing. So, current CCP (Han-tribe) does not have any right to claim to South China Sea islands. These islands belong to other countries such as Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, and the like. China must obey International laws ---That is the justice. Taiwanese are not the same as Chinese in Mainland!
In Response

by: 爱中国
November 21, 2012 4:16 PM
Panatag Shoal/Reef (Scarborough Shoal/Reef) may lies in your EEZ , however, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea only valid from 1982, but the reef was in Chins's territory from 1500s.

by: mhey from: Philippines
November 21, 2012 3:26 AM
I think if all these ASEAN claimants will unite,this China's puppet Cambodian leader has nothing to do in blocking the issue.

by: clueless
November 20, 2012 10:51 PM
Any countries who think by internationalizing an issue will solve it, will actually make it worse. Forcing an issue on another party will not lead to any productive discussion. Even if the entire SEA countries insist on certain agenda, China can just refuse to participate or just walk out, which make the matter worse. Smile.
In Response

by: kingkong
November 21, 2012 8:50 PM
"internationalizing" doesn't mean discussion with all claimants. It means going to international arbitration like International court of justice and International tribunal of the law of the sea!

by: Sun from: Taipei
November 20, 2012 10:28 PM
China must obey the declaration of conduct over disputed islands. Otherwise, China will be besieged by all other South East Asian countries and other major countries such as Japan, India, and Australia. Chinese current policy to lob other countries of their inherent territories and natural resources cannot be allowed by any other countries.
In Response

by: 爱中国 from: Canada
November 21, 2012 4:11 PM
what Taiwan claims is exactly same as China claims because it is China's territory, China doesn't want other countries land but we can't afford to maintain peace by losing our terriitory.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 21, 2012 11:57 AM
@Sun from Taipei. shame on you, Taiwan claims the whole south China sea and Diaoyu island too. There is no difference between China's claim and Taiwan's claim, because we are the same.

by: Aliamaba from: usa
November 20, 2012 2:39 PM
THAI' Leader remain on number 1 beautiful world leaders

by: L A Read from: California
November 20, 2012 1:58 PM
Here's the solution: Give one-quarter to each of the countries for 25 years, or a pre-determined time frame, then they swap their respective territories, either by lottery or some other treaty agreement.

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