30 October 2015
Most Southeast Asian countries with stakes in the South China Sea will take a cautious stand on the latest Sino-US confrontation, even though they may be happy to see a challenge to China’s claims in the disputed waters, according to observers.
The fallout from a US Navy patrol close to artificial islands China has built in the sea is likely to be high on the agenda next week when defence ministers from Southeast Asia, China and the United States meet in Kuala Lumpur and President Xi Jinping visits Vietnam.
“I suspect many states in the region welcome the move as it symbolically underscores two things: first, the freedom of navigation (and overflight) in the South China Sea; second, their opposition to China’s disputed claim to massive parts of the South China Sea,” said Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
Oh Ei Sun, another senior fellow with the RSIS‘ Malaysia Programme, said that although Southeast Asian nations with territorial claims in the waters were happy to see the US uphold freedom of navigation, they were on alert for China’s response.
“We know China must respond, but we don’t know to what extent. At worst, it might declare the whole South China Sea part of its air defence identification zone, it could claim more islands, or it might send ships within 12 nautical miles of other countries’ territorial limits,” Oh said. China, which had previously been reluctant to discuss the dispute in multilateral forums, was expected to take a more proactive approach in the defence ministers’ meeting next week, he said.
IDSS / RSIS / Online
Last updated on 30/10/2015