Update: On Tuesday, Asean nations called for a halt to expanding reefs into artificial islands in the South China Sea.
A major threat to stability in Asia today is the competing claims of countries that border the South China Sea. It is an urgent issue that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, a regional group, needs to discuss at its annual meetings this week. Yet China, which will attend the meetings as a guest, is insisting that the topic not be raised.
“This is not the right forum. This is a forum for promoting cooperation,” China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, said on Monday. That rigid, bullying attitude is at the heart of what’s wrong with China’s approach to the South China Sea, which is rich in fish and oil and gas resources as well as the route for $5 trillion in annual ship-borne trade.
China insists it has rights to over 90 percent of the strategic waterway despite the fact that Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also staked claims. Since the 1950s, most of them have tried to reinforce their claims by establishing outposts and in some cases stationing troops on islets and rocks in the South China Sea. But none has moved so aggressively as China, which transformed reefs into substantial artificial islands.