ASEAN misses its ASEAN Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity dead­line

China un­der fresh fire over sea rows as US courts SE Asia

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - An­drew Beatty

China came un­der re­newed crit­i­cism on Novem­ber 22 over its ris­ing pro­file in the South China Sea as it jos­tled with the United States for re­gional in­flu­ence at the con­clu­sion to a week of top-level diplo­macy. Asia-Pa­cific lead­ers met in Malaysia with China find­ing it­self in the fir­ing line over its land recla­ma­tion projects that have turned tiny atolls into fully-fledged is­lands with po­ten­tial mil­i­tary uses.

“The world is watch­ing,” to see if Beijing will be­have like a “re­spon­si­ble global leader” in the stand­off, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino told the as­sem­bled lead­ers.

The talks - which in­cluded the United States, China, Ja­pan and oth­ers - were hosted by the 10-coun­try As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN).

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who ear­lier in the week re­peated US calls for China to stop the land recla­ma­tion, an­nounced he would host the ASEAN lead­ers at a meet­ing in the United States next year.

“This re­gion ... is crit­i­cal to se­cu­rity, pros­per­ity and hu­man dig­nity around the world,” he said, while also pledg­ing con­tin­ued trade, diplo­matic, and se­cu­rity sup­port for the re­gion.

The an­nual sea­son of sum­mitry, which be­gan a week ago in Tur­key for the Group of 20 meet­ing, and con­tin­ued with re­gional fo­rums in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, has been over­shad­owed by the string of re­cent deadly ex­trem­ist at­tacks.

But at­ten­tion in Malaysia shifted back to Chi­nese ac­tions, which have raised fears of po­ten­tial con­flict at sea.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe waded into the fray, call­ing for the South China Sea, a key route for global se­aborne trade, not to be mil­i­tarised, while re­frain­ing from di­rectly nam­ing China, ac­cord­ing to Kyodo news agency.

‘Po­lit­i­cal provo­ca­tion’

China in­sists on sovereignty over vir­tu­ally all the

re­source-en­dowed South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Viet­nam, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Brunei, and non-ASEAN mem­ber Tai­wan.

Beijing has dis­played ir­ri­ta­tion with Wash­ing­ton’s ex­pres­sions of sup­port for the claims of China’s neigh­bours, and once again re­fused to budge on the is­sue in Kuala Lumpur.

With Obama present, Chi­nese Premier Li Ke­qiang told Novem­ber 22’s closed-door sum­mit that coun­tries “from out­side the re­gion” should stop in­flam­ing ten­sions over the mar­itime dis­pute, a Chi­nese of­fi­cial said af­ter­ward.

The of­fi­cial, Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Liu Zhen­min, also crit­i­cised the re­cent US de­ploy­ment of naval ves­sels to the South China Sea.

Wash­ing­ton has said the move was meant to stress the right to free pas­sage in wa­ters China claims, but Liu called it a “po­lit­i­cal provo­ca­tion.”

At the same time, China of­fered its own car­rot to ASEAN, an­nounc­ing a new raft of in­fra­struc­ture loans to­talling some $10 bil­lion.

ASEAN on Novem­ber 21 is­sued a joint state­ment stress­ing the need to main­tain free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over-flight rights in the South China Sea.

Wash­ing­ton says nav­i­ga­tion in a sea through which much of the world’s trade passes could be threat­ened by ac­tions such as China’s is­land-build­ing.

ASEAN also called for quicker progress on agree­ing a code of con­duct at sea with Beijing.

China has been ac­cused of drag­ging its feet on the code - which could ham­per its free­dom of ac­tion at sea - and seek­ing to run out the game clock while it works to turn its dis­puted ter­ri­to­rial claims into a fait ac­com­pli.

Obama also stressed US sup­port for the code, and said that “for the sake of re­gional sta­bil­ity, claimants should halt recla­ma­tion, new con­struc­tion, and mil­i­tari­sa­tion of dis­puted ar­eas.”

ASEAN draws closer

Ear­lier on Novem­ber 22, the heads of ASEAN signed an agree­ment to for­mally es­tab­lish the re­gion as an EU-style com­mon mar­ket.

Ac­tu­ally re­al­is­ing the vi­sion of the “ASEAN Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity” re­mains a dis­tant goal due to sig­nif­i­cant non-tar­iff and other bar­ri­ers, and large de­vel­op­ment gaps across the di­verse re­gion.

Di­plo­mats have ad­mit­ted their lat­est dec­la­ra­tion has no prac­ti­cal ef­fect and was largely meant to avoid hav­ing ASEAN - reg­u­larly crit­i­cised for its lack of con­crete achieve­ments - miss its own dead­line of 2015 for the AEC.

But the move takes the re­gion a small step closer to a hoped-for sin­gle South­east Asian mar­ket with free flow of goods, cap­i­tal and skilled labour across bor­ders.

© AFP

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