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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid