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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs