In 1980, Indonesia and Malaysia were prepared to sell off both Thailand’s interest as a front line state and the related concerns of Singapore and the Philippines. Indonesia and Malaysia’s interests were more abstract. Their priority was to assure the long-term preservation and expansion of ASEAN and to keep outside powers from interfering. Addressing their fellow ASEAN members’ concern about Vietnam was not on their agenda.
Something similar is happening today regarding the conflict in the South China Sea. The People’s Republic of China, backed by record-setting growth in defense spending and deployments of naval and other maritime assets, is asserting a claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea – right up to the shore line of the Philippines. This time, it’s primarily the Philippines, but also Vietnam, that find themselves offered up as sacrifice for the greater ASEAN good.