ASEAN deadlocked as split over sea deepens
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.
The 49th annual ministerial meeting of ASEAN began in the Laos capital of Vientiane yesterday.