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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
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 Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
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