ASEAN progress on maritime disputes – full steam ahead

It doesn’t look like it’s going China’s way.  

The UN has set up the arbitration court the Philippine government requested in January resolve the stand-off over the islands. During the recent ASEAN meeting Secretary-General Le Luong Minh was asked what would happen if China rejects negotiations with ASEAN on island disputes. 

“So we will strive to invite China to engage in this process and we hope to get a peaceful solution to the issue of the South China Sea,” he added.

China, meanwhile, accuses the Philippines of attempting to legalize its “occupation” of the Scarlborough Shoal. 

China’s attitude is that the “durable solution” the Philippines seeks is the same as a ruling on sovereignty.

by initiating the arbitration on the basis of its illegal occupation of China’s islands and reefs, the Philippines has distorted the basic facts underlying the disputes between China and the Philippines. In so doing, the Philippines attempts to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and clothes its illegal occupation of China’s islands and reefs with a cloak of “legality”. The Philippines’ attempt to seek a so-called “durable solution” such as this and the means it has employed to that end are absolutely unacceptable to China.

So last year, it was point to China. This year, ASEAN is aiming to find common ground on the issue ahead of planned discussions with Beijing later this year.

You would think that for all Beijing’s talk about soft-power someone there could step back from the issue and see how this looks to the non-Chinese claimants and by extension the world. But then maybe not. Because this may not be about China dealing with the outside world but China dealing with internal forces.

It’s back….The Senkaku-Diaoyu tensions

The Chinese send the patrols.

And this time, for added emotion, there is the simmering anger from China and South Korea for the visit by “at least 168 lawmakers” to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, honoring “14 leaders convicted as war criminals.” 

Japanese nationalists also sent their flotilla to the disputed islands.

Last year members of the same group, “Ganbare Nippon” (Stand Firm! Japan), landed on one of the rocky islets and triggered anti-Japanese protests in China, where lingering resentment over Japan’s wartime aggression has been rekindled in recent days.

Meanwhile, down in Brunei, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepares to meet to discuss, or not, the South China Sea disputes.

So many tensions, so little time.

The Philippines to be undeterred at ASEAN summit

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The Philippines, currently grappling with China in a dispute over territory in the South China Sea, will push for a code of conduct on maritime disputes at the next Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Brunei from April 22-25. Good luck, Philippines. The last ASEAN meeting in Cambodia in July 2012 ended without the association producing a comunique for the first time in its 45-year history. The reason? Deep splits among member nations over China.

Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said that ASEAN senior officials and ministers, “were able to come up with and agreed upon the elements of the Code of Conduct that would be shown and discussed with the Chinese.”

“But, as you all know, the Chinese side has said that they will only discuss this with ASEAN when the time is ripe. And we are hoping that the time is ripe is now for such discussion because this actually would be very good and this would be good for the region, and this will put peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the area that we are talking about,” he added.

Four countries, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam have active disputes with China over territorial issues. The Philippines has since taken their dispute over the Scarborough Shoal (pictured above) in the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which the Chinese dismissed. China claims the whole South China Sea as part of its territory.

As the Diplomat noted before the debacle of the last meeting…

There’s no doubt that ASEAN is split on the issue of China and territorial disputes. What is less clear is whether ASEAN’s disunity is simply playing into China’s hands, allowing it to deal with each country individually, or whether Beijing is actively driving a wedge between ASEAN members that oppose China and those that are more sympathetic to the Chinese position.

“Beijing has consistently pursued a strategy to prevent the South China Sea issue [becoming] one between China and ASEAN,” suggests Zhang Baohui, an associate professor at Lingnan University. “It has argued that the any conflict is bilateral. To this end, Beijing has succeeded by using a few Southeast Asian countries to prevent the emergence of a united ASEAN agenda or strategy.”

I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this meeting. But it will be interesting to see if the language changes among members. Possibly after the Japan-Taiwan deal on the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Beijing will grow more alert to the risk of further deal-making among its regional competitors. We’ll see. But you have give the Philippines credit for not rolling over to China.

China sends ships to Senkaku-Diaoyu after US comments

The Chinese send ships around the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands in response to Clinton’s statement, according to The Times of India.

China is upset with a statement by United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who said on Friday that her government was opposed to “any unilateral actions” to undermine Japanese authority over the islands.

 Here’s my favorite part.

The Chinese action comes amid new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s South East Asia tour. Beijing views this as an attempt to build up anti-China sentiment in ASEAN, which includes countries like Vietnam and Philippines who have territorial disputes with China in the region.

You see, Japan, which, whether they will call it one or not, has a dispute with China but is not allowed to make diplomatic overtures to Vietnam and the Philippines, which also have disputes with China. Countries that have a common cause in opposing China should not be allowed to fraternise with each other. Personally, I don’t think Japan needs to do much coaxing to bring Vietnam and the Philippines to shared perspective on China.

Obviously, I am focusing on the wording of this particular article. But it does hint at this particular Chinese delusion that they seem to be feeding themselves. China is automatically correct about all disputes and for any country in the region to the do the natural thing, the expected thing in response, is itself an affront to China. China recognises its own unfliching righteousness and any country that doesn’t do the same is a scheming devil. There is a certifiable realism deficit here.

NYTimes has a piece on China’s response to Clinton. Jane Perlez notes that the leader of the Japanese coalition partner New Komeito Party is due in Beijing. Natsuo Yamaguchi is aiming to ease China-Japan tensions.

The New Komeito Party has been involved in previous reconciliation efforts with China, most notably in 1972 when China and Japan resumed normal diplomatic relations with each other.