Asean, China need reality check on South China Sea issue


Asean (the Association of South-east Asian nations) has let itself down again for buckling under external pressure and whitewashing the chairman’s statement of the 30th Asean Summit, which concluded in Manila over the weekend. Not for the first time, territorial disputes in the South China Sea were the spoiler.

The Philippines’ decision to distance the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) award from Asean last year had prevented a possible showdown between the regional organisation and China, much to the relief of all parties.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s outreach to Beijing also helped to stabilise the Philippines-China relationship, a positive outcome that rubbed off on to Asean.

For its part, China extended an olive branch to Asean by dangling the early conclusion of the framework on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, a vital first step towards an elusive legally binding COC.

Notwithstanding China’s continuing efforts to bolster its military presence on reclaimed islands in the strategic waterway, the prevailing mood was one of guarded optimism and cooperation.