News / Asia

ASEAN Struggles with S. China Sea Dispute

x
Sara Schonhardt
JAKARTA — The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) says the group needs more cohesion, but will not be held hostage to outside pressure or internal disagreements over the disputed South China Sea.  ASEAN is struggling to dispel concerns about divisions among member states, after a chaotic annual gathering in Cambodia failed to produce an agreement governing actions in the South China Sea.  

Four the of 10 ASEAN members - Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei - claim parts of those waters, which hold vast fisheries, provide vital shipping lanes for trade and are said to be rich in oil.  But China also says it has sovereignty over nearly the entire area.

The summit earlier this month was expected to help ASEAN achieve a higher profile and cement confidence, but it revealed ongoing disunity among a bloc whose relevance has been questioned by many foreign-affairs observers.

Wednesday, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan acknowledged the group's shortcomings and said it needs to be more agile and effective when dealing with outside powers.  "Our member states will have to survey the landscape and the terrain and the waters very carefully, what could be an issue of controversy, so that we will be able to either avoid them or minimize the impact," said Pitsuwan.

A report released Tuesday by the International Crisis Group says ASEAN's ineffectiveness in resolving the dispute and more aggressive actions by countries claiming sovereignty over parts of the sea raised concerns the region's biggest potential military flashpoint could escalate into armed conflict.

"You have got levels of trust diminishing, but then possible diplomatic options for trying to lessen those tensions are not working very well right now," said analyst Bryony Lau of the Crisis Group in Jakarta.

The Crisis Group report says China is working to exploit divisions among ASEAN members by offering preferential treatment to those that do not side with its rival claimants.

South China Sea Dispute Map
South China Sea Dispute Map


Vietnam raised the issue of the South China Sea in ASEAN's 2010 regional forum.  In 2011 the Philippines took it up with even more fervor.  Lau says that created internal tensions that played on already existent divisions.

"The fact that there are states within ASEAN that have very different interests, have very different priorities, have different relationships with the United States and China, all of those are elements [that] come into play when it comes to ASEAN's capacity to deal with the South China Sea," added Lau.

A six-point declaration drafted by Indonesia on how ASEAN would move forward on the code of conduct on the South China Sea has provided some reassurance, but continued provocations from China have done little to downplay tensions.

China said Sunday it had established a new municipality on a sparsely populated islet it calls Sansha and would deploy a garrison of soldiers to guard the islands it claims.  Vietnam, which says the islet is part of its territory, called the move a "serious violation" of its sovereignty.  The Philippines has also responded to recent aggressions by calling for strong resolve against Chinese rhetoric.

There are fears ASEAN could be in danger of cracking under China's growing influence in the region.  Some also worry that its role in the region poses direct challenges to the United States, which has close relations with some ASEAN members, including the Philippines.

ASEAN has grown in size and economic importance in recent years and is on its way to creating an ASEAN economic community by 2015.  But Secretary-General Pitsuwan said the impasse over the South China Sea would not have a material impact on economic integration.

"We are going full steam toward our economic activities, our economic integration," Pitsuwan noted.  "It will have some psychological impact on the external partners, but as far as ASEAN is concerned, I think our vibrant economy, it is not going to be held hostage to the issue of the disagreement or the controversy of the South China Sea."

Despite the reassurance, analysts say ASEAN needs to make progress on the code of conduct to ensure that the South China Sea does not stoke further divisions and to prevent the dispute from becoming a U.S.-China issue.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: mark from: sydney
July 27, 2012 10:23 AM
The Chinese Government is a profound threat to world peace and stability: they invaded Tibet and murdered over 1 million tibetans in the process; they trained and armed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia leading to the systematic extermination of a huge part of the population; they actively support North korea and the instability there; they pursue aggressive territorial claims against Japan; they have intitiated multiple border wars with India, Vietnam, and Russia; and now they claim almost the entire South China Sea. One only needs to review one of the published maps showing their claim to arrive at the view that their claim is absurd, illegal, and nothing more than theft and thuggery. The Chinese have absolute contempt for international law, and anyone else. The only language the Chinese understand is the barrel of a gun!

by: Charlie from: UK
July 26, 2012 6:10 PM
I wonder why the Chinese have acted so amicably and patiently towards the Russians when their coast guards fired at one Chinese fishing vessel,causing the loss of one crew member who fell overboard.The Chinese said the Russians have overreacted and the 2 countries should work closely together to avoid future recurrence.Were the Chinese that civilised and tactful when they attacked and killed Vietnamese fishermen in Vietnamese waters which they claim theirs? What happened shows China's double standards.They would back down and bow to someone stronger and bully the weaker ones like Vietnam and the Philippines.The Chinese are just biding their time.When their navy gets mightier,their ships would flock to East Japan Sea,to assert their sovereignty,as they did on Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys recently.Well done China for a great diplomatic move!

by: X
July 26, 2012 9:58 AM
Cambodia is once again China's lapdog.It was China's dog during the Khmer Rouge era, and China dog's now. Nothing has changed. Something need to be done about this.

by: Quang Nguyen from: USA
July 26, 2012 3:09 AM
China now wants all the entire South China Sea for itself, as the first step to enlarge its empire. But, no other country, except Cambodia, would let it happen. Even if the present top Vietnamese Communist leaders voluntarily accept Vietnam to become the fifth little star on the Chinese flag, the Vietnamese people as well as most world superpowers would not let happen. China is not ready to challenge the military supremacy of the US, not to mention its allies. Even Russia is against this aggressive move of China.

by: Dennis from: Philippines
July 26, 2012 2:47 AM
We are ready for armed conflict. Lets just start shooting and get it over with, shall we? The Philippines is not exactly the poor and weak nation you are made to believe. And its ready to take on the small eyed bully who cannot see its litany of strategic weaknesses.

by: Frank from: Japan
July 25, 2012 10:02 PM
The old map of China country which was published in 1904 and republished in 1010 in Shanghai draws only HaiNam be its farthest island in the South, does not include Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Paracle and Spratly) islands. The first Chinese flag on these island was put in 1909 from where they showed their ambition of invasion. Chinese ancestors confirmed their country boundary by such legal document, why their descendents do such provoking actions!!!

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
July 25, 2012 7:29 PM
ROC(Taiwan) first claim the authority of south china sea in 1932 and published the official map. ROC then built many concrete monuments on major islands which were illegally destroyed by Viets and Finols. But democratic Taiwan is still the first to administrative south china sea and keep a military base on Taiping island. South China sea belongs to China without doubt. Go check Wikipedia for proves!
In Response

by: Phuc from: Viet nam
July 26, 2012 12:01 AM
u think Wikipedia right ??? u think information on the internet right ??? U think your govement right ???
U said China has much more basises and proofs than my country,if u and your country confident , why China isn't willing to let United Nations solve this disputes ??? while China is a big country.
In Response

by: Frank from: Japan
July 25, 2012 10:19 PM
Let I told you more exact information. The first Chinese flag was put on these islands in 1909. Earlier than your news. Another thing is the older Chinese map which was published in 1904 and republished in 1910 in Shanghai draws Chinese boundary where its farthest island is Hai Nan, does not include Spratly and paracel islands. In other words, until 1909 Chinese just started to show their ambition of invasion.
In Response

by: Mao T from: USA
July 25, 2012 10:08 PM
Mr. Huang has a baseless evident. If you have proper study in school you have never base your information in Wikipedia. Go back to school and ask your teacher!
The historical evidents, daily commune- activities of Viet fishermen, and best evident of all China has attached South Vietnam Navy in 1974 and occupied those islands since then.

What a bunch of coward to take advantage to a smaller country...


by: Anonymous
July 25, 2012 6:11 PM
China is conquering South East Asia, not with big guns but tons of money.It works !

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs