ASEAN Foreign Ministers raise concerns over China’s South China Sea activity

February 28, 2016

 ASEAN Foreign Ministers raise concerns over China’s South China Sea activity

by Reuters

Protesters hold placards as they join in a protest rally to denounce China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati city, metro Manila, February 25, 2016. — Reuters pic

Southeast Asian nations expressed serious concern today (February 27) about growing international tension over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the sea but Southeast Asian countries Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam have rival claims. Friction has increased over China’s recent deployment of missiles and fighter jets to the disputed Paracel island chain.

“Ministers remained seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments,” the 10-members Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN) said in a statement after a regular meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in Laos.

Land reclamation and escalating activity has increased tensions and could undermine peace, security and stability in the region, Asean said in the statement.

The United States has criticised China’s building of artificial islands and facilities in the sea and has sailed warships close to disputed territory to assert the right to freedom of navigation.

Yesterday, the United States urged China’s President Xi Jinping to prevent the militarisation of the region.Vietnam, which accused China of violating its sovereignty with the missile deployment, echoed the US call today.

“We call for non-militarisation in the South China Sea,” Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told reporters after meeting his ASEAN colleagues.

“We have serious concerns about that,” he said, when asked about China’s increasing military activity in the region.

Dr Kao Kim Hourn (left), Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Sok Siphana (right)

The group agreed to seek a meeting between China and ASEAN’s Foreign Ministers to discuss the South China Sea and other issues, Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said.

China’s maritime claims are ASEAN’s most contentious issue, as its members struggle to balance mutual support with their growing economic relations with Beijing. China is the biggest trade partner for many ASEAN nations.

Neighbours Vietnam and China compete for influence over landlocked Laos, which has no maritime claims but finds itself in the difficult position of dealing with neighbours at odds over the South China Sea. Laos is tasked with finding common ground on the issue as the ASEAN chair in 2016.

“The South China Sea issue is a headache that Laos would really rather not have to deal with,” said one Western diplomat in Vientiane.

Thongloun Sisoulith, Laos Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, played down the challenge.“We are a close friend of Vietnam and China, we try to solve the problems in a friendly way,” he told Reuters today. “We are in the middle, but it’s not a problem.”

Barack Obama is set to become the first US president to visit the country in September to attend an annual summit hosted by the ASEAN chair. — Reuters

8 thoughts on “ASEAN Foreign Ministers raise concerns over China’s South China Sea activity

  1. Dr Kao, and foreign ministers should be seen standing in making the ‘stand’. One look bored, and another seems to be sleeping. Hard to tell anything from Dr Kao’s body language.
    Don’t read too much into that photograph. Both Sok Siphana and Dr. Kao work well with FM Hor Namhong.–Din Merican

  2. “The Chinese will want to share this century as co-equals with the U.S. . . . Unlike other emergent countries, China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West. . . . China will not reach the American level in terms of military capabilities anytime soon, but is rapidly developing asymmetrical means to deter U.S. military power. . . . The Chinese have calculated that they need 30 to 40 , maybe 50, years of peace and quiet to catch up, build up their system change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence, and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars . . . . I believe the Chinese leadership has learnt that if you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.” [from pg 3–5 Lee Kuan Yew – The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World –ISBN 978-0-262-01912-5]

    “In 2009, . . . . fifty-two vessels took part in special review at the east-coast port of Qindao, including previously unseen nuclear submarines. In many ways, it was coming-out party for China’s new navy. . . . one of the striking aspects of China’s turn to the sea is that it is rooted in history and geography in a manner that transcends its current political system. It was from the sea that China was harassed during its ‘century of humiliation’ at the hands of the West. China was one of the most prominent victims of nineteenth-century gunboat diplomacy, when Britain, France, and other colonial powers used their naval supremacy to exercise control over Shanghai and a dozen other ports around the country. . . China learned the hard way that having a weak navy leaves a country vulnerable to pressure and bullying by others. The instinct to control the surrounding seas is partly rooted in the widespread desire never to leave China so vulnerable again. ‘Ignoring the oceans is a historical error we committed,’ says Yang Yong, a Chinese historian. ‘And now even in the future we will pay a price for this error.’. . . In the decades when China had little more than a coast guard, it was largely unaware that the U.S. Navy was patrolling waters near its shores. But now that its capabilities are more advanced, it witnesses on a daily basis that the American navy is superior, and operating only a few miles from many of China’s major cities. ‘For them, this is a major humiliation that they experience every single day,’ says Chu (Shulong, an academic at Tsinghua University). . . For every ten barrels of oil that China imports, more than eight travel by ship through the Strait of Malacca, the narrow sea channel . . . patrolled by U.S. ships. Fifteenth-century Venetians used to warn, ‘Whoever is the Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.’. . . Until now, China’s maritime security has been guaranteed largely by the U.S. Navy. But, like all aspiring great powers before it, China has been forced to confront a central geopolitical dilemma:can it rely on a rival to protect the country’s economic lifeline?. . . . From the early days of the American republic, strategists in Washington fretted about the presence of the old European powers in the Americas. In 1823, these anxieties were given an official stamp when President James Monroe declared that the American continents were “henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.’ In effect, America put up a large ‘Stay Out’ sign over the hemisphere. It is a natural instinct of rising powers to try and establish a buffer that prevents the more established powers from threatening their security. Like China today, America then worried about the risk of a blockade of its economy. . . Like Chinese leaders today, American politicians in the nineteenth century took geopolitics very seriously while all the time professing disdain for the old European games of power politics. And like China today, America was planning for the long term. The Monroe Doctrine was more bluff than fact for over half a century after it was announced. . . Even by the 1880s, Chile, Brazil and Argentina all had larger navies than the U.S. It was not until 1890s, when America started to establish a world-class navy, that it was able to genuinely enforce the Monroe Doctrine —a crucial point not lost on the Chinese today. . . . China’s naval push is drawing heavily on American influences. In 1890s America, one of the most important evangelists of naval power was Alfred Thayer Mahan. . . The book he eventually wrote,The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1680-1783, turned out to be one of the most influential of his generation when it was published in 1890 . . . Mahan had two major themes. The first was about the virtues of building a naval force that could fight ‘decisive battles’ against prospective rivals, thereby ensuring the command of the seas that can guarantee national greatness. The second was a more nuanced geopolitical theory about the importance of controlling the sea-lanes that are vital to a nation’s commercial life. . . . if Mahan is remembered at all today, it is largely for the first set of ideas, which have cast him as one of the warmongers of his age. . . Kaiser Wilhelm was a big fan and ordered a copy his [Mahan] great work placed in every battleship. . . Mahan died just after the outbreak of the First World War, and his obituary in the New York Times said that his writings were ‘really responsible for the German Navy as it exists today.’ Sir Charles Webster, the British historian and wartime diplomat, once claimed, ‘Mahan was one of the causes of the First World War’ — a charge from which his name has never completely recovered. . . . Neglected at home, Mahan has become deeply fashionable over the last decade in Chinese intellectual circles . . . He has inspired a generation of Chinese navalists. ‘A big country that builds its prosperity on foreign trade cannot put the safety of its ocean fleet in the hands of other countries,’ writes Ye Hailin, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. ‘Doing so would be the equivalent of putting its throat under another’s dagger and marking its blood vessels in red ink.’. . . In 1996, three Chinese warships made a goodwill port call at San Diego. American officials who visited the ships notices that the interior walls were made of plywood, which made them not only flimsy but also a fire risk. The Chinese military was considered so primitive that some American strategists joked that its battle plan for taking control of Taiwan was ‘a million-man swim.’ No one in Washington or any other Asian capital is making the same jokes now. . . After two decades of double-digit increases in military spending, China now has the second-largest defense budget in the world, after the U.S. While the U.S. has been fighting a losing battle in Afghanistan for over a decade and pouring more than a trillion dollars in the debacle in Iraq, China has been carefully conducting the biggest military expansion in the world. Of course, China’s budget is still much smaller than that of the U.S. which spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined in defense, and which will remain the most sophisticated military power for some time. But China has no intention of challenging the U.S. around the globe over the coming decades. It has no interest in establishing a serious naval presence in the Caribbean, for instance, or posting soldiers in continental Europe. Instead, it is focused on Asia.”

    [from the first chapter of The Contest of the Century – The New Era of Competition with China by Geoff Dyer : 2014]

    The Chinese will keep their head down, and smile for the next 50 years.

    N.B: All emphases in bold are mine.
    Thanks for this. Din

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