04 January 2017
Disputes over the South China Sea spilled into the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) last year, disrupting the harmony among the 10-member grouping who had to confront the elephant — or, in this case, panda — in the room: China.
Asean is sailing through choppy waters at a time when China is becoming more assertive in the region and there is also great uncertainty over United States President-elect Donald Trump’s policy towards Asia.
Making matters worse is the rocky relations between the two superpowers, with international relations experts drawing comparisons with the Cold War era, when countries were forced to choose sides.
So when it comes to the South China Sea issue, most experts paint a bleak picture as they look ahead into 2017, predicting that temperatures in the disputed waterway — where some 70 per cent of the world’s shipping trade passes through — will only heat up.
Washington and Beijing will continue to compete for influence in the region, as Asean’s much-vaunted centrality is thrown into question now that the Philippines, the Asean chair, is making overtures to China.
… Singapore had several brushes with China last year, including an exchange of words with Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times over the South China Sea issue in September and the seizure of Singapore’s armoured troop carriers by Hong Kong customs en route back from Taiwan in November.
As a result, Singapore would need to tread even more carefully, said Dr Collin Koh, a naval expert from the Maritime Security Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
It is going to require “a tight balance of competing interests” — to ensure the unity of Asean and handling an assertive China and to maintain its close defence and security partnership with the US.
“Notwithstanding Beijing’s stance, clearly Singapore is not going to abandon this close partnership with the US, and it would continue to encourage the US under Trump to stay committed to help maintain Asia-Pacific peace and security,” Dr Koh added.
IDSS / Online / Print
Last updated on 04/01/2017