With a two-day late joint communiqué, foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries have shown not only worries over Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea, but also a more polarised regional body that is failing to back up its words with action.
In the statement dated August 4, but released only on Thursday night, top diplomats from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) said land reclamations in the strategic body of waters had “increased tensions” in the region, despite China’s protests. But it stopped short of earlier calls by the Philippines and United States for all claimants to adopt Washington’s proposal to halt reclamation, construction and militarisation.
The delay was a result of wrangling over how strong the wording about China’s behaviour should be, diplomats have said. And it reminded some analysts of the non-issuance of such a document in 2012, when Cambodia was in the Asean chair.
“No Asean chair wants to be another Cambodia,” said Xie Yanmei, a senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group.
The 2012 failure was widely interpreted to be a result of China revealing its hand to break Asean’s unity. It was the only time in the organisation’s 48-year history that foreign ministers failed to agree on a joint communiqué.
Since then, the regional body had made a consensus to avoid a repeat of the experience, Xie said. Otherwise “it would appear that the organisation would be on the verge of collapse”.