News / Asia

ASEAN Concludes, Exposing S. China Sea Rifts

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.
Irwin Loy
PHNOM PENH – Southeast Asian foreign ministers have failed to hammer out a joint statement summarizing key regional meetings this week. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations stumbled over how to deal with a simmering dispute in the South China Sea. The unprecedented impasse has left some officials pointing a finger at chair Cambodia, and it raises questions on the cohesiveness of the 10-member bloc.  

ASEAN’s failure to compile a basic statement has brought this week’s usually secretive back-room discussions to the forefront. As the meetings concluded on Friday, the Philippines blamed the impasse on Cambodia, which holds this year’s chair of the regional bloc.

The Philippines, one of four ASEAN claimants to the South China Sea, wanted the joint communique to include mention of discussions regarding the Scarborough Shoal, a set of disputed islands in the body of water.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim overlapping parts of the South China Sea, along with Taiwan and China. But it is China’s influence on the issue that has proven the most divisive to ASEAN members.

In a news conference following the meetings Friday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong defended the chair’s decision. Speaking through a translator, he said ASEAN should not be wading into territorial disputes - a position similar to Chinese views of the issue.

“Cambodia has taken a position of principle," he explained. "We are not a tribunal to decide the dispute. Here at the meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers, we are not a tribunal to adjudicate who is right, who is wrong.”

Namhong instead suggested that ASEAN members with claims to the sea were attempting to hijack the process.  

The failure to come to terms on a joint communique is unprecedented in the history of ASEAN ministerial meetings , says Carlyle Thayer, a specialist on ASEAN affairs at the University of New South Wales.

Thayer also says the failure to draft even a basic statement this week raises more fundamental questions for ASEAN.

“ASEAN has stood for being the guardian of South East Asia’s regional autonomy. Trying to provide the insulation against the intrusion of great powers," Thayer said. "What this indicates is that China has managed to break that insulation and influence one particular country. That’s going to affect any issues that begin to touch on China.”

Thayer says the issue may have exposed a rift among the ASEAN countries that have territorial disputes with China, and those that rely on China for trade. Cambodia has received hundreds of millions of dollars in soft loans and investment from China.

Still, ASEAN ministers downplayed the issue while acknowledging their concern Friday. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s comments Friday were more tempered after he called the failure to reach a joint statement “irresponsible”, just a day earlier. He told reporters that the meetings had made him more inspired to push forward on an elusive ASEAN Code of Conduct, or COC, on the South China Sea dispute.

“If anything out of this meeting I am even more determined to push for the COC, so all these side happenings becomes more contextual," Natalegawa said. "Instead of the incidents, the tail wagging the dog, we should have a sense of purpose. We should move forward rather than being sidetracked by incidents.”

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan stressed the need for members to move quickly on repairing what damage has been done.

“I can’t lay the blame on anyone, declared Pitsuwan. "I think it’s a collective responsibility for us to try to find the solution to this. I consider it a major hiccup. And we will have to recoup from this hiccup very quick and very fast.”

Cambodia remains in the chair for the next ASEAN leaders’ summit, scheduled for November.

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Comment Sorting
by: Tran from: Saigon
July 15, 2012 10:50 AM
@Jonathan Huang: There are two type of power: evil power and good power. Hitler, César are represented the evil power. You probably know why there are american troop stationed in South Korea, Japan (this is not a game), and China is the only country on earth supporting North Korea. I hope that China will be a good power and the world welcome that. The way you expressed that made me feel China is on the track becoming an evil power soon - your quote: "soon you gonna have Chinese army in your country too. Get use to it, it is the rule of the game..."
By the way, you are anti the West then why you are still in Canada. I know this country recognizes dual citizenship. Next time you write, please put a captial "C" in front of the word "Canada" just as you did for your name, Ok?

by: Ung Thuong from: Battambang
July 14, 2012 12:48 AM
Why you all expect too much from Cambodia to raise up the issue of South China Sea, you don't know Cambodia is younger brother of China? Vietnam is a talkative country, let China shut them up by gun-power. Recent times, a Vietnamese comunnist leader, Pham Van Dong already recognized China with treaty as the sole owner of sea territory around Vietnam. However, the ungrateful Vietnamese shouldn't forget what Chinese used to help them to fight American army. China helped Pol Pot but the real killer is Vietnam.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 15, 2012 11:42 AM
You wait until China conquer SEA, you then finf out you are one of the victims,one of their colonies.

by: Truong from: Vietnam
July 13, 2012 9:51 PM
Just look at the Map of how china draw on the sea. it is impossible, crazy. it like a baby draw on the paper what he can draw. I supports what Filipino is doing to fight against this crazy china, and i feel so sad and frustrated that VNmese Gov has done nothing excepted for keeping claiming of "unrespected actions".
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
July 15, 2012 1:48 AM
you should also look at the map to see how far Falkland is from British and how far Guam from USA. This is the advantage of being a great power, stop jealous, jealous only hurts you.
US still has army in Korea, Japan and everywhere, soon you gonna have Chinese army in your country too. Get use to it, it is the rule of the game, stop whining.

by: J.H from: Saigon, Vietnam
July 13, 2012 3:50 PM
why we called South China sea ??? I dont like this name ... this sea must called is East sea or SouthEast Asia Sea .

by: Ulchi from: US
July 13, 2012 11:29 AM
After breaking up ASEAN, destroyed ASEAN unity at the Cambodia meeting,China is now sending hundreds of fishing strawlers with its navy escort all the way southern part of South China Sea to haul up sea food illegally. Nobody stops them anyway.
In Response

by: son from: asia
July 14, 2012 8:21 PM
China always makes troubles in fact. they do not care other countires. because it became the big country. they just think about own country benefit, like a selfish behavior and the authority hides the past history. so that poor person believe the announcement from it and people misunderstood in details. so chineese must read foreing documents and should know real situation, not through chineese news or announcemet.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 14, 2012 6:44 AM
china is rigt
In Response

by: Tin from: VN
July 14, 2012 2:26 AM
China proves to be aggressive and dirty.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
July 14, 2012 12:34 AM
divide and rule, it has been invented by China more than 2000 years ago, not just your west know how to use it.
Time is coming for the world to get use to having a rich and powerful China as their leader. at least as one of their leaders.
stop fighting against the history trend, you only get hurt. Cooperate with China, you will find out it is much less painful, LOL

by: carrots from: Philippines
July 13, 2012 11:03 AM
Look at that fishing net. What a large catch! Bunch of islands

by: Vaméri from: US
July 13, 2012 9:17 AM
ASEAN countries are a group of thugs, corrupted, accepted bribes from rich but ugly China. They completely sold South China Sea to Beijing under the table.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 14, 2012 6:46 AM
your opinion is unilateral
In Response

by: Vaméri from: US
July 13, 2012 7:52 PM
What I want is ASEAN to be solidly united into one defense bloc to help themself, denfend themself from aggrassive China.Some members of this organization devided this group in favor of China. Well, some one can sell under the table the whole world to China if that person knows how to break up world unity because China has an ability to eat up whole world, one country at a time.
In Response

by: Itachi Christian from: US
July 13, 2012 10:40 AM
It's true. However, the Philipines are not cowards. Accompanied by the US, they will have a chance to protect their coastal areas.So much for Vietnam or Cambodia. They are truly under China's command.
In Response

by: nicecuagain from: USA
July 13, 2012 9:53 AM
How do you sell something under the table that's NOT yours? And please don't be a hypocrite, every country has thugs, is corrupted and accepts bribes.
In Response

by: Kettle calling pot black from: US
July 13, 2012 9:51 AM
So unless others support what you want, they are thugs. It seems the kettle is calling the pot black (:-

by: Jonathan Huang from: Canada
July 13, 2012 8:50 AM
DEMOCRATIC Taiwan has sent 6 warship to escort Chinese civilians to visit Diaoyu islands last week. Taiwan also claim the whole south China sea. Since Taiwan is an US ally so Taiwan's claim must be true and Diaoyu islands and the South China sea belong to all Chinese! Taiwan's claim is exactly the same as the mainland's that is a strong prove the China has the authority on Diaoyu island and the Soth China sea period.
In Response

by: James Yee from: Philippines
July 13, 2012 2:19 PM
Your rationale for China's claim over all of the South china sea is full of illogical loopholes. Unless china comes to the table diplomatically and is willing to shed it's arrogance and stop it's bullying over its so called sovereignty over these mass body of water then maybe china can expect a more positive reaction from the Asean nations. By the way, The West Philippine sea the sovereign territory of the Philippines. Am I biased, you bet I am! I am of Chinese ancestry but you bet I am Filipino.
In Response

by: John Hans from: US
July 13, 2012 10:05 AM
It's more than Diaoyu island. The original nine-dashed line of South China Sea was published in 1947 by the Republic of China which is Taiwan now. Lots of people justify their claims in South China Sea using proximity. Diaoyu island is much closer to Taiwan than anyone else. So all those people must support Taiwan's position! In South China Sea, Taiwan has the largest Taiping Island (Itu Aba). Many uninformed people think the issues in South China Sea is China (PRC) vs the neighboring countries. As a matter of fact, were China steps back, it would be interesting to see how fights play out!

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