News / Asia

ASEAN Meeting to Examine South China Sea Dispute

Protesters hold anti-China placards to protest what they say is aggressive action by China in the dispute over a resource-rich area in the South China Sea, while marching near the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 10, 2011
Protesters hold anti-China placards to protest what they say is aggressive action by China in the dispute over a resource-rich area in the South China Sea, while marching near the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 10, 2011
Heda Bayron

Asia’s surging economies are hungry for natural resources and that is drawing new attention to the reserves that lie under the South China Sea. Bordering countries have long disagreed over control of the sea, but new oil and gas exploration efforts are worsening tensions. Some countries will take the dispute to the coming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

When a Chinese vessel cut an exploration cable off a Vietnamese survey ship that was searching for oil in the South China Sea in May, tensions quickly ratcheted up. Vietnam responded by conducting live-fire exercises in the area, and protests erupted in Vietnam and the Philippines against what those governments called China’s assertiveness.

It was not the first time disputes over the region stirred controversy. Vietnam and China fought a sea battle in the area in 1988. China considers all of the South China Sea its “indisputable” territory.

Strategic importance

But Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim all or part of the South China Sea.

The area is one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, but its oil and gas reserves make it even more important to countries that are intent on shoring up their energy security.

Yang Fang, an associate research fellow studying maritime security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, he said, “On the one hand, China has a growing demand for energy, and on the other hand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have all extracted lots of resources in the South China Sea. Consequently, China is increasingly using maritime law enforcement agencies to defend its maritime interest.”

But as economic interests clash, the danger of armed conflict increases. China’s naval might is growing, and Vietnam and Malaysia are increasing their capabilities with new submarines.

Naval presence

In recent years, Chinese officials repeatedly have emphasized they want to cooperate with neighbors to resolve differences.

Carolina Hernandez, a defense analyst at the Philippine Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, said a military build-up is needed should cooperation fail.

“We will get whatever we can get in terms of good relations with China, but most of us will keep some kind of insurance policies," she said. "Don’t put all your eggs in the cooperation basket because world politics is not like that.”

In his trip to Beijing this month, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen warned of a miscalculation in the area that could lead to violence.

Some regional analysts say that risk is low, however, because it would disrupt oil drilling. James Nolt, campus dean of the New York Institute of Technology in Nanjing, said, “It’s not going to be possible for anyone to produce oil from the South China Sea region if it’s a region of conflict and war, because oil companies are not going to risk their expensive assets in a war zone. So the only way any of the countries in the region can get anything is if they exploit the resources cooperatively and peacefully.”

US influence

The United States said it remains committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the area and calls for a multilateral solution to the issue - an idea China rejects. Beijing has complained about what it calls the intervention of non-claimants in the dispute.

Later this month (July 15-23) defense officials and top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and other ASEAN partners meet in Indonesia. The South China Sea is expected to be high on the agenda.

Some governments in the region have indicated they see ASEAN as the main platform for resolving the dispute. ASEAN worked with China in 2002 to come up with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which is considered the cornerstone of conflict-avoidance in the area.

Hernandez has doubts, though, about this.

“It [ASEAN] cannot solve the dispute. Not all 10 parties are members, there is the ASEAN 4 that are claimants and they have overlapping claims. The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties is maybe more a political declaration. It has norms but cannot be enforced,” said Hernandez.

ASEAN focus

Regional analysts say the next step for ASEAN is a binding code of conduct. But that is unlikely to materialize this year.

Yang Fang in Singapore said the United States’ interest in the matter complicates ASEAN’s role.

“ASEAN countries should try to manage the relationship between China and the U.S. on the South China Sea issue. On the one hand, they should recognize the U.S. interest in this region, on the other hand, they should not push China into one corner that it would get China out of this process,” said Yang Fang.

John Ciorciari, associate fellow at the Asia Society in New York, said that while China has increasing naval capability, it still cannot secure and hold territories for long periods of time, especially if the United States aids other claimants.

“China’s strategy has been to prevent other claimants from encroaching on the disputed area and planting their flags, so to speak, and so that it can bide time when it expects in the future it’ll have even greater capabilities and may be able to secure more concessions,” said Ciorciari.

Given the military and the economic concerns, experts on the region say the only appealing option is continuing talks, including at the ASEAN meeting this month.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs