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English>>Foreign Affairs

US moves to sway ASEAN on South China Sea issues

(Global Times)    10:03, February 16, 2016
US moves to sway ASEAN on South China Sea issues
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attend a joint press conference after their talks in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 27, 2016. (Xinhua/Ding Haitao)

Choosing sides harms nations’ interests

US attempts to influence officials at the ASEAN meeting over their China policy are unlikely to yield substantial results due to a lack of consensus among members, analysts said Monday.

The two-day meeting in Sunnylands, California, which starts Monday, is the first of its kind in the US. It is expected to address critical security issues, including the situation in the South China Sea, as well as trade and investment issues.

Choosing Sunnylands as a venue for the event symbolizes the importance the US puts on its relations with ASEAN countries, as it needs their support to project influence in the region, said Sun Chenghao, an assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Although US officials have said the gathering would not take aim at China, some analysts believe that the South China Sea issue will be high on the agenda.

However, ASEAN is not expected to take the same stance as the US, as there is no consensus among the bloc over their China policy, rendering major developments unlikely, the analysts say.

At a press call on Thursday, Ben Rhodes, US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the security situation in the South China Sea, including China's test flights at the newly constructed runway on a reclaimed reef, will be discussed at the meeting.

Dan Kritenbrink, the US National Security Council's senior director for Asian affairs, added on Thursday that Obama will "call on claimants to halt land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and to carry out no militarization of outposts in the South China Sea."

"The US hopes to convince ASEAN countries to challenge China on South China Sea issues, but a joint statement of the participants would be basically impossible, as a US-led regional order does not benefit ASEAN countries," Sun told the Global Times.

Sun's opinion was echoed by Ei Sun Oh, a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, who told the Global Times that the meeting is more symbolic than substantial.

Many ASEAN countries traditionally take a neutral stance in the tussle between powers like the US and China and are more interested in economic cooperation. ASEAN is due to hold similar meetings with Russia and India this year, he said.

Unpromising results

The US has attempted to raise the South China Sea issue during meetings with ASEAN several times, with so far unpromising results.

A meeting of ASEAN defense ministers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in November 2015 ended with officials unable to agree on adding South China Sea issues in a joint communiqué, Reuters reported. Defense ministers from the US, Australia, Russia, China and South Korea were also present at the meeting.

ASEAN members that dispute China's claims, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, may want US guarantees about their interests in the region, but other nations do not want to follow US orders and risk their diplomatic and economic ties with China, Zha Xiaogang, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times.

"For the South China Sea issue, we should try to encourage the countries concerned in the dispute to continue negotiations with each other because ASEAN has no right to measure land for any side," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency while speaking with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry last month.

ASEAN's foreign strategic choice is one of equilibrium toward big countries, despite some countries leaning toward the US, said Xu Liping, a senior fellow of the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Choosing sides among powers such as China and the US will harm their interests and is unlikely to happen," Xu said.

China has protested two recent US "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea that saw two US warships sail into Chinese waters.

"As an outsider, unnecessary US involvement could further complicate the issue and worsen the regional situation," Zha said.

TPP push

Separately, the US is expected to strengthen its economic cooperation with ASEAN to counter China's economic influence in the region, such as attracting more members to sign up with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, analysts said.

"China is not afraid of competing with the US in the economic field, as long as there's a level playing field," Zha said.

China is now ASEAN's largest trading partner, with their 2014 trade increasing 8.3 percent year-on-year to $480 billion, according to the Xinhua News Agency, while the country's "Belt and Road" initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have promoted regional stability and development. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Kong Defang,Bianji)

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