South China Sea issue may hurt ties

Updated: 2011-11-16 06:39


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KUALA LUMPUR - The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is gearing up for yet another ASEAN summit that is due to kick off in Bali, Indonesia on Thursday.

The summit will be followed by a broader East Asia summit on the weekend, which includes ASEAN's traditional dialogue partners - China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the United States who is invited to take part for the first time.

The summit comes at a time when the region is embroiled in overlapping territorial dispute in the South China Sea, an issue widely expected to top the agenda of the meetings.

Statements released by the Philippine government on Tuesday made clear that it is garnering support from allies to form a front against China on the territorial row.

International Affairs analyst from Malaysia, Chandra Muzaffar believed ASEAN countries may have been manipulated by the US.

"I don't think it is good for ASEAN to be so closely linked to the US because Washington has its own agenda as far as this region is concerned," said Chandra, a professor of Global Studies at the Science University of Malaysia.

"Because of its links with the US, you find a lot of ASEAN countries which are spending a great deal on military hardware, they become more militarized. They try to be provocative because someone is pushing them towards that direction, failing to realize that the issues can be resolved via peaceful dialogues," he added.

ASEAN and China adopted a non-binding code of conduct in 2002 to curb hostile acts in the South China Sea.

In October, US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta attended the annual ASEAN defense ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia as the only non-ASEAN official at the event.

"When you bring in other countries, the idea of ASEAN plus three (China, Japan and ROK) has lost its cohesiveness. It has now become 10+8. This is the region that will be the pace setter in the future," Chandra said.

"The US wants to have a main say on the security pact in the region and it is driving away some ASEAN countries from China," he added.

He said China had a track record of weathering the storm with ASEAN, citing as an example the Chiangmai initiative.

The initiative was a multilateral currency swap arrangement among the 10-member ASEAN, China, Japan and ROK to manage regional short-term liquidity problems and to facilitate the work of other international financial arrangements and organizations as a rescue plan after the 1997 financial crisis.

"China has tangible ways to stand by ASEAN. In the 1997 financial crisis, China could have devalued the renminbi in economic sense, but the Chinese did not because they were concerned about the economies in the ASEAN countries," Chandra said.

"ASEAN should value independence and sovereignty to avoid becoming a tool for the interest of someone else and their agenda," he added.