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Asean Affairs  13 May 2011

Asean presses for concrete sea rules

By  David Swartzemtruber

AseanAffairs     13 May 2011

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The ongoing dispute between China and several Asean member states over who has what rights in the South China Sea periodically flares into confrontations between China and the involved Asean countries, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

As the 18th Asean Summit drew to a close last week in Jakarta, the member countries expressed a wish to accelerate the process of establishing a more concrete set of rules in the sea to lower the incidence of the confrontations.

Asean and China established a Declaration of Conduct (DOC) on the matter in 2002. However, the declaration is yet to translate into more concrete rules.

Asean Chairman Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said, “We want a code of conduct [COC]. More than 10 years have passed. We want to accelerate the process. That’s the spirit and thinking of Asean. We know that there are certain tensions, but ASEAN’s perspectives will not worsen the tension. The Asean forum will not be a stage for rivalry.”

The leaders stressed within a statement that “continuing positive ASEAN-China engagement is essential in moving forward the DOC issue.”

Although the South China Sea is a vital maritime link carrying much cargo between the East and the West, the real payoff is the energy resources (oil, gas) that may be gained by claiming territorial rights over the sea, as China has done.

The move by Asean confirms its stance that any negotiations on the South China Sea must be multilateral (strength through numbers) rather than China’s position is to engage each country individually.

The South China Sea dispute is long-standing and it is unlikely that this Asean approach will make China alter its position.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
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