For the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history, a regional conference ended without a joint statement. Senior diplomats from the ten-member bloc had been meeting this week in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Failure to reach a consensus on a communiqué has been attributed to the deep divisions within the group over how to deal with conflicting territorial claims to the resource rich areas of the South China Sea.China and Taiwan have overlapping claims to various parts of the South China Sea with four ASEAN members, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, which naturally prefer to resolve maritime disputes through a multilateral setting. But some ASEAN countries not involved in these arguments—and who have strong trade and aid relationships with Beijing—sided with China, which has reiterated its desire to handle such disagreements bilaterally.Meanwhile, as discussions were underway in Phnom Penh, tensions again flared up between the Philippines and China, according to the AP:
In the latest incident, China’s Defense Ministry said a Chinese navy frigate ran aground this week while conducting patrols in a disputed part of the South China Sea near the Philippines.A brief statement posted to the ministry’s website Friday said that no injuries were reported and that a recovery operation was being mounted. It said the accident occurred Wednesday as the ship was patrolling near Half Moon Shoal. The area is about 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) west of the Philippine province of Palawan in an area claimed by Manila.
As one wag on Twitter put it, “China can now state, with evidence, that it has an extremely well grounded basis for claims on South China Sea.”On a more serious note, incidents like these only serve to heighten nationalist sentiment throughout Asia. Bargaining positions harden and the willingness to give ground melts, making it more difficult to resolve these conflicts peacefully.