Calling on ASEAN
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
NIDA A. BUENAFE
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
As foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations come together in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh, its Prime Minister Hun Sen said that hammering out a code of conduct with China in the disputed waters will be a chief goal for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The prevailing tension over the competing claims in the South China Sea will be a hot issue in the meetings, particular in the latter part of the week when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Chinese counterpart will be among the participants for the security-focused ASEAN Regional Forum.
Tensions have risen recently in that part of Southeast Asia, with both Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of aggressive behavior. Manila is leading a push for ASEAN to unite to persuade China to accept a code of conduct but Beijing has been adamant in pursuing a bipartisan approach to the issue. Senior diplomats attending the meetings in Cambodia say ASEAN was been looking for ways to approach the issue without offending China, the world’s second biggest economy and a major trade partner for many ASEAN member countries.
China’s preposterous claim of owning the entire South China Sea, a vital international shipping lane and widely believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, and it’s increasingly aggressive behavior in that area should be a major concern for ASEAN, as Taiwan and its members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have legitimate claims in those waters. If Manila can convince ASEAN to act as one and pressure China into behaving by following an acceptable code of conduct in the disputed waters, it can be considered as a significant victory for the Philippine government that has been helpless in the face of the aggressiveness of a belligerent Chinese maritime presence in the disputed areas that has shown us and the world exactly what their government thinks of our ability to defend our territory from encroachment and invaders.
ASEAN is caught in a bind, not wanting to offend its powerful neighbor but at the same time obligated to protect the interests of its member-nations. The Philippine contingent must work overtime and press all the right buttons to grab this opportunity and persuade the rest of the ASEAN to take a unified stand and send a message to China that the region, as well as the entire world, is watching the way it is conducting itself in the West Philippine Sea because if we are still unable to use diplomacy to fend off those Chinese ships, we could easily lose that part of our territory to the neighborhood bully.*