28 July 2016
The Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) was once again hamstrung over the weekend as it struggled to cobble together diplomatic language that could reflect a variety of positions on the disputed South China Sea. The uncooperative cog was Cambodia, a key ally of China, who objected to any mention of an international court ruling against Beijing’s expansive claim in the disputed waterway.
Ultimately, Asean’s unity of purpose prevailed as foreign ministers on Monday issued a joint communique calling for the peaceful resolution of disputes, including “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes”.
But Asean cohesiveness is bound to be tested again given the divergent positions among the member states, especially between those concerned with Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the regional maritime domain and those with close economic and ideological ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
Some observers have suggested dismissing Cambodia from the regional grouping so that Asean can move forward on the South China Sea.
… For Mr Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and former Asean Secretary-General, it is a moot point.
“They (Cambodia) will not leave because their non-Asean ‘sugar daddy’ wants them to stay in Asean to be useful,” he told TODAY, referring to China. He believes it is better to continue persuading and appealing to their sense of commitment to Asean unity and integrity.
“There are no punitive options. We just have to make the cost of political duplicity very high for the errant members,” added Mr Ong, who is also the executive deputy chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
… RSIS associate research fellow Henrick Tsjeng pointed out that Asean unity is fragile. “At a time when Brexit is causing a lot of concern about the future of the EU (European Union) as well as a crisis of confidence, such talk would only heighten such fears of the same happening to Asean.”
IDSS / RSIS / Online / Print
Last updated on 28/07/2016