ASEAN dead­locked as split over sea deep­ens

The Myanmar Times - - World -

SOUTH­EAST Asian na­tions were dead­locked yes­ter­day over how to con­front sabre-rat­tling in the South China Sea as pres­sure from Bei­jing again drove a wedge be­tween coun­tries on the re­gion’s most con­tentious se­cu­rity is­sue.

The gath­er­ing here is the first time re­gional play­ers – in­clud­ing China and the United States – have met en masse since a United Na­tions-backed tri­bunal de­liv­ered a ham­mer blow to Bei­jing’s claim to vast swathes of the strate­gic sea.

The 10-mem­ber ASEAN boasts four coun­tries that have com­pet­ing claims with Bei­jing over parts of the strate­gic sea and is fiercely di­vided on the is­sue.

Ri­val claimants have ac­cused China of deftly forg­ing al­liances with smaller coun­tries like Laos, this year’s host, and Cam­bo­dia through aid and loans to di­vide the once con­sen­sus-driven bloc.

Chi­nese pres­sure was blamed for a star­tling show of ASEAN dis­cord when coun­tries swiftly dis­owned a joint state­ment re­leased by Malaysia af­ter an Asean-China meet­ing in June.

That state­ment had ex­pressed alarm over Bei­jing’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea. Cam­bo­dia and Laos were later fin­gered as be­ing be­hind moves to block the joint state­ment.

Those di­vi­sions were on stark dis­play once more in the Laos cap­i­tal with in­sid­ers ac­cus­ing Cam­bo­dia of scup­per­ing moves to in­clude a re­sponse to the tri­bunal rul­ing in a joint com­mu­nique.

“We need to put our house in or­der,” one diplo­mat in­volved in dis­cus­sions said yes­ter­day.

“But we still have not agreed on any­thing.”

A work­ing draft of the cur­rent joint com­mu­nique ob­tained by AFP on July 23 showed the sec­tion ti­tled “South China Sea” as blank.

The im­passe here has led to fears of a re­peat of a 2012 sum­mit in Cam­bo­dia where the bloc failed to is­sue a joint state­ment for the first time in its his­tory be­cause of dis­agree­ments over the South China Sea.

Photo: AFP

The 49th an­nual min­is­te­rial meet­ing of ASEAN be­gan in the Laos cap­i­tal of Vi­en­tiane yes­ter­day.

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