News / Asia

No Maritime Breakthrough Likely During ASEAN-China Talks

An aerial photo shows Chinese marine surveillance ships Haijian No. 49 (front) and Haijian No.50 cruising in the East China Sea, as the islands known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands, April 23, 2013.
An aerial photo shows Chinese marine surveillance ships Haijian No. 49 (front) and Haijian No.50 cruising in the East China Sea, as the islands known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands, April 23, 2013.
Tensions over the South China Sea are the backdrop of this week's meeting between foreign ministers from China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.  The issue is expected to be a major focus of the agenda in Beijing. It is also high on the agenda in Brunei, where regional defense chiefs are meeting with their counterparts from China, the U.S. and other countries.  But a breakthrough is seen as unlikely.
The ASEAN countries are seeking a quick resolution to negotiations on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and multilateral talks on territorial disputes in and around the sea. But both positions are at odds with a Chinese government that has been increasingly aggressive in promoting its maritime territorial claims.
Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
After a half day retreat in Thailand this month, ASEAN foreign ministers said they are prepared to speak with one voice on the issue of quickly negotiating a long sought Code of Conduct, a binding agreement that would regulate maritime behavior and that could set the stage for talks to resolve territorial disputes. 
But former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James Clad said the pronouncement by ASEAN is not likely to have any effect.
"Well firstly, I don't believe ASEAN does speak with one voice," Clad said. "For starters, the Cambodians, where the heads of state meeting was held not so long ago, have made every effort to oblige its friends in Beijing. So the idea that there will be one voice from ASEAN regarding the South China Sea is inherently and empirically improbable. That said, it's useful to go in with what is essentially kind of a bluff.  But I don't think it will have any measurable outcome in the talks with the Chinese, who will kick the can down the road, which is what they always do."

Cambodia’s close relationship with China came under close scrutiny last year when it hosted a major ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh. For the first time in history, the ministers were unable to agree on the language of a joint declaration, a signal of ongoing controversy among the ministers. 
Last week, Cambodia's foreign minister held talks with his Chinese counterpart and urged closer ties between ASEAN and Beijing.  
But independent analyst Lao Monghay told VOA it is part of the same old game plan for Beijing. 
 “The strategy of China is to divide ASEAN," he said. “It succeeded in the summit in Cambodia last year.” 
China has said it is in no rush to negotiate a Code of Conduct. It is also opposed to a multilateral solution to its territorial disputes, preferring to hold only bilateral talks with its ASEAN neighbors. 
US diplomacy

The United States, which says it does not take sides in the territorial disputes, has increased its diplomatic engagement on the issue.
David Shear, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, told VOA a Code of Conduct would be an important step for the region. 
"We are engaged in a very strong dialogue with the Vietnamese on this subject and we talk about a variety of things, including what is going on on the water," Shear noted, "including what is going on with regards to possible negotiations with the Chinese on a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which we believe it is implemented, negotiated and implemented, it would greatly reduce tensions on the water, on the South China Sea."
The United States and Vietnam still have major disagreements on some issues, including human rights. But Alexander Vuving of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies believes a U.S.-Vietnamese strategic partnership is definitely possible in the long-run because of China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and the Obama administration's "pivot" to Asia. 
“In the near future, there are still many obstacles in Viet-US relationship, but in the long run, this bilateral relationship will be much closer given the fact that China is becoming more and more determined in their sovereignty claims in the South China Sea which is  in direct conflict with Vietnam’s interests in the disputed sea," Vuving said. "In the long run, a Viet-US strategic partnership is something  definitely possible amid the growing corruption of the current dictatorship government in Vietnam, China’s increasing aggressiveness in  the South China Sea, and US’s Asia pivot”. 

The United States is also talking with the Philippines, including negotiations to increase the rotational presence of U.S. military forces and equipment. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a major increase in U.S. funding for military education and training programs in Southeast Asia.
James Clad said the U.S. engagement is increasing the leverage of ASEAN countries. 
"I think the thing to understand is that with this administration, the great advantage, the great gain in diplomacy, Secretary Gates,  former Defense Secretary and [former] Secretary of State Clinton were in Hanoi in 2010 and they indicated that the American position was that this had to be resolved multilaterally," Clad said. "Which was a significant gain for ASEAN leverage. The Chinese didn't like it then and  they don't like it now. Like all big powers dealing with smaller powers, they prefer to have things done bilaterally [because] it gives them more leverage."
But Su Xiaohui, from the Chinese Institute of International Studies, said China finds the idea of multilateral negotiations unacceptable. 
“Basically, the Philippines believes it is in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis China on South China Sea negotiations and China’s  development will lead to weakening of the Philippines’ position, so they do not want to conduct bilateral negotiations with China," Su said. "The  Philippines is attempting to use American support to increase its leverage against China. The Philippines wants to make COA a  multilateral agreement with which to settle the South China Sea territorial dispute. The Philippines believes it will enjoy an advantageous position in multilateral talks. China cannot accept this because we don’t consider the South China Sea a multilateral issue. Although it involves six parties - Taiwan and five countries - it is in fact a bilateral issue between two countries  over some reefs and disputed waters; it is not an issue to be negotiated multilaterally." 
The South China Sea is believed to hold massive oil and natural gas reserves. It is the site of territorial disputes between China and nations such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.   Japan and China are involved in a separate dispute in the East China Sea. 
Fred Wang contributed to this report from Beijing, Tra Mi contributed from Washington and Kong Sothanarith contributed from Phnom Penh. This report was produced in collaboration with the Mandarin, Vietnamese and Khmer services.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs