Although Asean has so far played a passive role in addressing the South China Sea dispute, a series of incidents — which raise concerns over the severity of tensions — should prompt Asean to take an assertive role to maintain peace in the region.
Some Asean leaders might be content with the current stance of the alliance, although practically it has not contributed much to ensuring the South China Sea dispute will be resolved through diplomatic channels.
However, recent incidents suggest that securing peace in the South China Sea could have significant implications for overall security in the region, and not just for the claimants. The South China Sea is not only rich in natural resources; it also serves as a major transport route for oil shipments and international navies.
Asean cannot be complacent, especially after countries such as the US and Group of Seven (G-7) nations reacted strongly against China’s land reclamation, which includes building airstrips in the Spratly islands — also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.