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Asia's Game of Thrones
China Still Rules over ASEAN

As the annual ASEAN summit kicks off in Manila this weekend, the Secretary General is sounding cautiously optimistic on a longstanding goal: negotiating an enforceable code of conduct with China on the South China Sea. Reuters

The Association of South East Asian Nations had not received any guarantees from China in discussions to create a framework for the code within this year, but ASEAN was hopeful a set of rules could be agreed to ward off disputes and militarization, Le Luong Minh told Reuters.

“For ASEAN, such a framework must have substantial elements, and such a code of conduct must be legally binding,” he said in an interview. […]

China’s recent decision to work with ASEAN to draw up a framework for a code, 15 years after they agreed to one, has been met with a mix of optimism and scepticism, coming at a time when Beijing races ahead with development of its seven artificial islands in the Spratlys.

Count us among the skeptics. Yes, China has lately sounded more open to negotiating a code of conduct, signaling some willingness to work with ASEAN to resolve maritime tensions. But many analysts suspect that this is a ploy. Beijing wants to give the appearance of cooperating with ASEAN, and it may agree to a vague framework that restates the principles of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct. But it will not accept a legally binding code that could meaningfully constrain its behavior in the South China Sea.

Besides, other voices in ASEAN have made it clear that the body will not be getting tough on China this time around. Ahead of the summit, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said it was pointless to raise the South China Sea dispute, since no one could induce China to change its behavior. And according to early reporting, Manila has already caved to Chinese demands to soften an ASEAN statement that included an oblique reference to this past year’s Hague ruling. If ASEAN cannot even agree on a statement indirectly criticizing Chinese expansionism, it can hardly summon a consensus for a tougher, legally enforceable code of conduct.

Put another way, Beijing’s “divide and conquer” strategy is still working. Just as China has previously leaned on Cambodia and Laos to prevent an anti-China consensus from emerging within ASEAN, so too has the Philippines largely been brought over to Beijing’s side. So long as China is able to drive a wedge through ASEAN in this way, the body will remain hopelessly ineffectual in presenting a united front against its claims.

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  • Dhako

    And where is America (i.e., the Self-appointed global policeman of the world) in all of this” Yeah, that is right, telling the already alliance it has (be they NATO, or be they, the likes of South-Koreans) to “pay-up” if they want American’s protection racket (sorry, I mean, American defensive umbrella) to guard them. Hence why would you be surprise if ASEAN, countries, sees that they they are better off with China than be at the mercy of Trump’s mobster New-York’s tactics of “demanding” a pound-of-flesh from them, long before he will bestirred himself to go and bat for their defense. No, the US’s alliance jig is up (at least in the pacific and in Asia in general). And most states in that part of the world, will take their “strategical cues” from what Trump have said it and done it, and they will act accordingly.

    • Isaiah601

      So you are saying people who have hated Chinese for thousands of years will all of a sudden agree to become vassal states for a few billion dollars? I think you are severely under-estimating how much people outside China despise China’s heavy hand. Take yourself for example. Would I want to have to listen to people like you for extra $50/year? no way man….

      • ——————————

        Did that 400K factor in inflation?… being that you will take it 10 to 20 years out…

        • Isaiah601

          It does. I’m betting inflation will be slow as we have huge deflationary demographic trends going on (look at Japan). So I figure it is like $250 to 200K a year in present dollars. Listen, I realize I’m not asking for much. My platform is anonymous Internet boards. So I’m giving Dhako a discount.
          P.S. Please note the cash provision. No need for our favorite Uncle to get involved in a free market exchange.

    • ——————————

      Ah, but Grasshopper…no one is “better off” with a third-world, communist, paper tiger…not for protection…or not for anything else….

  • It is all about economic interests…they have too much invested in China for them to dare going against it. That was the same for Britain when they joined China’s AIIB despite the protestations of the United States.

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