01 May 2016
The traditional photo-op at Asean meetings is a time for smiles and the odd giggle. Leaders cross arms and link hands to form a chain of unity, which can cause amusingly awkward contortions when one has to tilt one’s body to grasp the hand of another of very different height.
Last week, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations witnessed a less funny tilt involving mismatched partners. At a meeting in Vientiane, Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅 ) announced a four-point consensus with Cambodia, Laos and Brunei on the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Wang said the three smaller Asean members had agreed the disputes were not “an issue between China and Asean as a whole”.
It was reminiscent of the 2012 summit, which – for the first time since Asean’s founding in 1967 – ended without a joint communiqué. Host nation Cambodia had blocked any statement on the dispute, kowtowing unabashedly to the wishes of Beijing.
Last week’s development was not as startling, but it compounded Asean members’ concerns about China’s intentions and methods. The four-point consensus was a pre-emptive strike foreclosing the possibility of a show of Asean solidarity towards China’s actions in Southeast Asian waters.
… Singapore diplomat Ong Keng Yong harked back to better days: in 2002, China forged a pact with Asean on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an initiative Wang had a hand in. “At that time, whatever Asean wants, we’d probably get it because we were the beautiful young lady that the man [China] wants,” Ong said caustically.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 03/05/2016