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Asia's Game of Thrones
Philippines: Keep Your Feuds Outta ASEAN

As it prepares for its year at the helm of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines has sent a thinly veiled message to the new administration in Washington: keep your fight with China out of ASEAN, thank you very much. Reuters:

Philippine defense minister Delfin Lorenzana told delegates from more than 20 countries at a security conference in Singapore that outside powers should not pursue their competition in the region.

“As the host to the leaders of the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and India, we will have to remind our friends, firmly if necessary, not to use ASEAN as a proxy for their rivalry,” Lorenzana said.

“We will reaffirm the unity and solidarity of ASEAN amidst this emerging super-power competition.”

The Philippines has been seeking to re-orient its policy toward Beijing and forge its own bilateral agreement on the South China Sea, and any antagonistic statements from ASEAN could only complicate that effort. And although the United States is not an ASEAN member state, the Obama Administration often worked through the forum as part of a multilateral effort to air grievances against China and assemble a coalition against its claims in the South China Sea. Beijing’s influence on Cambodia sometimes prevented official ASEAN rebukes of Chinese policy, but the institution’s members nonetheless grew more outspoken against China’s incursions under Obama’s watch, fueling the impression that Washington was using it as a proxy to balance against Beijing.

Manila probably sees in Trump a president who will more aggressively stand up to China on a bilateral basis, but who will back off from dragging other neighbors into the fight in multilateral institutions. And they’re probably right in their assessment: Trump’s instincts are diametrically opposed to Team Obama’s. From tearing up multilateral trade deals to goading China on Taiwan, Trump has shown a distinct preference for acting unilaterally, and little interest in patiently working through institutions, so the Philippines may well get their wish.

Still, there is likely to be some discord from ASEAN countries who want the United States to keep pressing the issue in that body. Trump’s relationship with China’s neighbors, in ASEAN and elsewhere, is something to watch.

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  • Beauceron

    It’s not our fight, but rather Japan’s, S Korea’s and other South China Sea nations’ battle.

    I would very much support the US taking the position that we wish those nations the best of luck dealing with China on the issue and stay out of it.

  • Dhako

    I think this what is call “putting a brave face” on a rebuke delivered to the new Trump’s Administration at best. Or at worse, it could be call the usual delusion this parish call TAI was always liable to entertained where Asia and China is concern, at worse. But, whatever it is, let me break it down to you, and tell you what this “rebuke” means, that, the US has no “fig-leaf” to cover herself with it, if ever they wanted to worm their way into the fight that is happening in the South China Sea (SCS). Hence, what that means, is that the next time the US wants to use the SCS issue as a “leverage” against China, the resat of the ASEAN are not going to go along with that agenda. And, this means, what the likes of soon-to-be Secretary of State, Mr Tillerson, which was that, China, will not be allowed to use her “build” islands in the South China Sea (SCS) will not have any supporters and political followers from the ASEAN states. And this will simply means, the US’s influence in these states vis-a-vis that of China is facing a rapid decline, particularly if you consider, that today, that the Trump’s administration has essentially buried the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with his first-day in office’s executive order. Hence, I am afraid, this another nail on the coffin of US’s waning influence in the ASEAN and the Pacific-Rim states.

    • Psalms564

      3 short paragraphs!!!!! Dhako, you are almost there. 2 paragraphs, relatively short ones, and your point of how awesome China is would be good.

      • CapitalHawk

        Yes, yes. Here is a proposed edited version:

        I think this what is call “putting a brave face” on a rebuke delivered to the new Trump’s Administration at best. This means next time the US wants to use the SCS issue as “leverage” against China, the rest of the ASEAN are not going to go along with that agenda and China is free to continue to build islands in the SCS.

        The US influence in these states vis-a-vis that of China is facing a rapid decline, particularly if you consider that today, the Trump administration has essentially buried the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with his first-day in office’s executive order. Hence, I am afraid, this another nail on the coffin of the US’s waning influence in the ASEAN and the Pacific-Rim States.

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