Without a united position on the West PH Sea ruling, how can ASEAN be relevant?


MANILA, Philippines – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still has a long way to go in making its response to the territorial disputes over the South China Sea relevant, after it was unable to release a joint statement following the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague favoring the Philippine claims over the West Philippine Sea.

This was the belief of the experts who spoke at a forum organized by Stratbase-Albert Del Rosario Institute and Asia Society Philippines on Tuesday at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City.

As A. Ibrahim Almuttaqi, head of the ASEAN Studies Program at The Habibie Center in Indonesia, pointed out that the ASEAN had already drafted a joint statement on the ruling, but could not even agree to issue it.

The draft statement, which was published by Kyodo News, was not critical of China, Almuttaqi said. The document only went so far as to say the ruling could be useful for the parties.

“The Arbitral Tribunal’s Award provides clarification on maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, which could be useful for parties to peacefully settle disputes in the South China Sea,” the draft statement read. (Read the story on Bangkok Post: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/asean/1035694/asean-abandons-joint-statement-on-ruling.)

Almuttaqi said that this was the fourth time since 2012 that the ASEAN was divided over the issue of the South China Sea.

“This repeated failure calls into question the very relevance of ASEAN and its self-proclaimed ‘centrality’ in the regional security architecture,” he said.

He added that this was a mockery of the ASEAN Bali Concord III of 2011, which calls on member-states to speak in a common voice on international matters of mutual concern, and to enhance ASEAN capacity to respond and contribute solutions to global matters.