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Will China Sign Up to ASEAN Code of Conduct?

The economic growth powering Asian countries is also intensifying the competition for resources. The South China Sea in particular has played host to a number of disputes already this year, involving China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. So it is welcome news that the ten ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members have agreed to key elements of a code of conduct to regulate maritime conflicts in the region.

The ASEAN agreement is a big step forward. The next step, obviously, is to get China on board. But as the BBC reports, this could be tricky, given that ASEAN members are far from united on the issue:

China has overlapping territorial claims with several Asean members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – in the resource rich area.

But Asean members are divided over what to do. The four affected countries want action but others, like Cambodia, are recipients of Chinese aid and investment, and reluctant to rock the boat, says the BBC’s Guy DeLauney.

With so many countries claiming sovereignty to parts of the South China Sea, the U.S. aim of moulding a stable and peaceful Asia is under threat. As Via Meadia has noted in the past, the U.S. has no desire to be Asia’s nanny; it does not want to involve itself directly in these conflagrations. Strengthening multilateral Asian institutions, like ASEAN, so that over time they come to be seen as a respected forum for maritime disputes, is clearly in Washington’s interest.

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  • Luke Lea

    The People’s Liberation Army has some cocky, hard-liner generals who have to be appeased, if only verbally. With transition in civilian leadership probably not a likely time for new leaders to make wimpy noises. If the economy tanks a military coup is not out of the question.

  • Kris

    Luke@1: So if the cocky PLA were to meet with an oh-so-regrettable foreign setback, would this put it in its place and allow for a more rational Chinese foreign policy, or would it only inflame Chinese nationalism?

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