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NEWS UPDATES 16 August 2010

Asean unity for US-China rivalry

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The rivalry between the US and China in the Southeast Asian region has been more apparent recently as the major powers tested each other.

The testing occurred in territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and Greater Mekong areas, to lending a hand to ASEAN members to develop nuclear plans.

ASEAN officials have warned that the rivalry between the two powers could divide members of the ASEAN bloc, potentially hampering their efforts to work together as allegiances are torn in two directions.

“There is no future of military solutions in each of the conflicts,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told visiting Asean journalists. “The key is Asean’s unity. If we are not united then there is a danger of us being balkanized. We should not invite them into our own internal affairs, because it will divide us,” Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeoh said earlier.

Yeoh cited the example of the interplay between China and India in Myanmar.

“If Myanmar was not a member of ASEAN then India and China would intervene in self-defense. It would tear Myanmar apart,” he said. However, Yeoh urged ASEAN countries to be open and more friendly toward all major powers, quoting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s submission, “A thousands friends, zero enemies”.

“They have their rivalry but we should be friendly, neutral and open with them,” he said.

Apparent acrimony between the US and China emerged last month when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi that the US was willing to mediate in territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Many Southeast Asian countries see Beijing increasingly views the contested maritime area as a Chinese lake.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi responded bluntly to Clinton’s remarks, saying they amounted to “an attack on China”, before reminding Southeast Asian countries that China is a big country, implying that individually they were small.

In response, Cambodia and Vietnam are following countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines in trying to forge new links with the US to counterbalance China’s rapid rise to power.

After meeting with Yudhoyono last month, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the US would re-engage with Kopassus, Indonesian Army’s special forces unit.

In a move that will further increase regional tensions, the US is also conducting negotiations with Vietnam over a deal to allow the purchase of nuclear fuel, as well as American nuclear technology and reactors.

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