News / Asia

China Impacts ASEAN Unity on Sea Disputes

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks at the closing ceremony of the 45th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia July 13, 2012.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks at the closing ceremony of the 45th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia July 13, 2012.
Analysts say continued efforts to unify Southeast Asian nations on the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea are being complicated by Beijing's rising influence in the region.

ASEAN, a bloc of 10 Southeast Asian nations, for the first time in its 45 year history failed to produce a joint statement at a regional summit in Cambodia last week, revealing a deep rift over the issue.

The discord was widely attributed to political pressure from China, which would rather deal separately with the five nations with which it has maritime disputes, rather than confront ASEAN as whole.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is on an emergency tour of Southeast Asia, a trip he describes as an attempt to "restore ASEAN cohesion and unity on the South China Sea." Speaking in Cambodia Thursday, he said some progress is being made.

"ASEAN centrality requires - demands - ASEAN unity. And the fact is, despite suggestions to the contrary, in actual fact, ASEAN remains united, ASEAN remains cohesive. And therefore, ASEAN remains able to fulfill its role as in the central and driving seat of our region," said Marty Natalegawa.

But many say unity is not likely to be achieved with China continuing to exert enormous political pressure on nations like Cambodia, which rely on Beijing for billions of dollars in economic assistance.

Ralph Cossa, a security analyst at the Pacific Forum in Hawaii, says such pressure could eventually work against China. 

"I think China wants ASEAN to not unite," he said. "But I don't think China wanted to see it go to the extreme that it did, where essentially now the spotlight is shining on China's bullying of Cambodia and some of the weaker ASEAN countries."

Many ASEAN members blame Cambodia, currently the bloc's chair, for giving into Chinese pressure by rejecting a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their territorial disputes with China in the group statement.

Phat Kosal, an Asia researcher at the University of Southern California, says Vietnam is upset that Cambodia chose to side with China, breaking their traditional alliance.

"I think there must be some kind of resentment [on behalf of Vietnam], but not to the level that there is a split in the future because Vietnam knows that Cambodia cannot do much as it is so much under China's pressure. Cambodia needs assistance to develop its economy," said Phat Kosal.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says it is clear that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in siding with China over Vietnam, is not putting his country's interest first.

"Hun Sen is showing that he is going to make alliances with the people he thinks serve his interest the best," he said. "I don't think he makes alliances thinking that they serve the country's interest the best. I think it's almost always about what serves his political interest and personal interest the best."

Observers say short-term attempts to build regional consensus on the South China Sea may ultimately prove futile, even during the next ASEAN summit in November.

But the issue is likely to return to ASEAN's agenda next year, when Brunei - a claimant in the South China Sea - takes its turn as the rotating head of the regional bloc.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Vietnamese American from: California, US
July 28, 2012 10:17 PM
China is using the Divide-and-conquer method to swallow South East Asia. The Chinese gov is bribing the Cambodian officers to stir the pot. One day the chinese gov will invade Cambodia as well. Wake up before it is not too late, Cambodian!

by: Anonymous
July 21, 2012 7:59 PM
The latest news coming out 7/20/12 is they now hace a communique without demands from VN and Phil.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 22, 2012 11:43 AM
New communique sastified all Chinese demands, ASEAN got nothing because they could do nothing.

by: reiner from: Shanghai
July 20, 2012 8:12 PM
We all know all South China Sea were peaceful until US decided to "return", for sake of its geopolitical agenda.
In Response

by: jundemar from: philippines
August 02, 2012 2:01 PM
China's 9 dash line is hallucination, if china based its claimed on their ancient maps(disputed) ,says that china is owned the west Philippine sea, i thing it also time to raise the italy to claim europe because it once become part of roman empire or macedonia to the middle east being conquered by alexander the great, today claims based on ancient time is no longer valid, the present based for claim is the UNCLOS which china sign in 1982, if they not respect that law , its better to expel them from UN. (OUT CHINA IN WEST PHILIPPINE SEA!)
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 22, 2012 9:42 AM
Started with blood in 1974 and more blood in 1988. That was peace (?) China has brought to South China Sea.

by: Hoang from: Canada
July 20, 2012 12:07 PM
To Levis,
After freeing Cambodia from Kmer Rouge genocide, Vietnam left Cambodia. Cambodia is now an independent country. Without vietnam to stop China, all of South east asia including Cambodia will be part of China and China will claim South East Asian Countries belong to China since ancient times. Look at Tibet and think for yourself.

In Response

by: Vietnamese American from: California
July 28, 2012 10:26 PM
To Hoang,

You are so right!
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 20, 2012 2:33 PM
No doubt, Tibet is in China's domain. You only hear about speech of Dalai Lama but don't know much about Chinese history.

by: NGUYEN HUE from: Viet Nam
July 20, 2012 5:13 AM
ASEAN nations should expel Cambodia from ASEAN because of its betrayal. Cambodia should apply to China for being accepted as a Chinese province.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 20, 2012 10:47 AM
Hanoi acted exactly same way in 2010 as Cambodia did in 2012. Both these crooks worked well for China.

by: Igor the Great from: Russia
July 19, 2012 11:48 PM
The Khmer Rouge's Great Teacher, the PRC, taught that regime how to genocide 2.2 million Cambodians. It was Vietnam who liberated Cambodian people from The Khmer Rouge regime. Now the Cambodian government has decided to bite the hand that fed to receive China's money. Some of Asean members must remember that they are too small and need to be united. Otherwise, they will be swallowed by China one by one. In history, China has never given something free of charge to any country. It gives you one and will receive ten from you. How stupid the Cambodian regime is!

by: Anonymous
July 19, 2012 2:58 PM
ASEAN is a bunch of crooks. China knew that and bought them all.
Done deal !

by: Tee
July 19, 2012 1:53 PM
As a Cambodian I don't think this kOSAL guy knows what the fuck he's talking about! There are no such thing as vietnam and cambodian friendship??? The viet pest tried to take over cambodia a long long time ago! Good thing Cambodia have a friend like China to keep them in check! I'm happy to see China nuke the crap out of this viet country!!!
In Response

by: Levis from: Solomon
July 19, 2012 11:32 PM
VN invaded Cambodia and just recently the latter has to give two more villages to VN as for compensation. So Hoang, do you think VN is good to Cambodia? Not yet saying that many VN people come and live in Cambodia from generation to generation so that in the future they will be considered as the locals, there.
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
July 19, 2012 4:49 PM
To Tee,
Vietnam should have let Kmer Rouge kill more cambodians in 1979. Without Vietnam, all of South East Asia would fall to China.
China is no friend to any country including Cambodia.

by: pivoting
July 19, 2012 10:34 AM
Hasn't China always been "exerting political pressure" or "acting assertively" with its SCS claims for all these years as the media consistently portrait the country? Then what actually caused the ASEAN to break its 45 years old tradition of issuing a joint communique this time, but not last year, or the years before that?

It got to be something significant happened right in this year that rattled the balancing mechanism which held the ASEAN members together previously. There is indeed an important word in Mechanics, called pivot.

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
July 19, 2012 10:10 AM
Sorry, Cambodia gets benefits instead of pressure from China. China is bigger than ASEAN add up together. Choose siding with China is wise, and more and more countries will make the same choice soon especially those countries have no territory dispute with china. World economy is downing China is your only salvation.
In Response

by: Vietnamese American from: California
July 28, 2012 10:23 PM
What was happening when the American battle ships came to South east Asia? Chinese gov acts like a chicken!
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