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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs