Up­roar at ASEAN

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Dr Ah­mad Rashid Ma­lik

Anew mess up is be­ing cre­ated. A tus­sle is re­newed. Mar­itime dis­putes in South China Sea are tak­ing a new shape, where al­lies and op­po­nents are tak­ing sides that would change the geo-pol­i­tics in the re­gion. A new geostrate­gic con­fig­u­ra­tion keeps evolv­ing, chal­leng­ing the old set­tle­ment. Many are crack­ing down the post-war sta­tus quo, be­liev­ing that a num­ber of mar­itime dis­putes were not re­solved un­der the San Fran­cisco peace treaty in 1951.

They want the United Na­tions to re­solve them un­der the 1982 Law of Sea Con­ven­tion. China, on the other hand, blocks all multi-lat­eral moves to change the sta­tus quo in the South China Sea. China has his­tor­i­cal claims over these ter­ri­to­ries.

There are a num­ber of mar­itime dis­putes be­tween China and the Philip­pines, Viet­nam, In­done­sia, Malaysia, and Brunei. No­table of these Is­lands are the Para­cel ar­chi­pel­ago, 45 is­lands and nu­mer­ous reefs and rocks of the Spratly ar­chi­pel­ago, the Mac­cles­field Bank and the three is­lands of the Pratas group. Un­der the 'US pivot to Asia', these mar­itime dif­fer­ences have been re­vived in the name of ' peace­ful res­o­lu­tion'. Ten­sion has rose high be­tween China and Ja­pan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Is­land is­sue, af­ter 2010.

China started con­struc­tion work at the re­claimed reefs namely; Geven, Mabini (John­son), Kagin­gen (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cau­rteron) and Ken­nen (Chiguo). Ad­ver­saries per­ceive these de­vel­op­ments as China's mar­itime blue wa­ter navy mod­erni­sa­tion in South China Sea.

Whilst the United States would fo­cus on 'peace­ful res­o­lu­tion' of the mar­itime dis­putes, China sees it dif­fer­ently. It thinks that any out­sider is not a claimant to these dis­putes and it should not med­dle. Hence they want to main­tain the sta­tus quo, but still be­lieve in de­vel­op­men­tal and non-mil­i­tary work. The up-gra­da­tion of naval bases by the US es­pe­cially in the Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Sin­ga­pore, and In­done­sia are sources of con­cerns for China. It thinks that Ja­pan has also been med­dling on be­hest of the United States. To pro­tect its in­ter­ests, China fi­nally erected an Air De­fence Zone over East China Sea in Novem­ber 2013, which has been seen with trep­i­da­tion by China's ad­ver­saries in­clud­ing In­dia.

The US and its al­lies are strongly ag­o­nized about China-led Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB) too, and the num­ber of coun­tries that have joined it. It has sent its war planes and naval ships into the 12-nau­ti­cal-mile zones around Chi­nese-con­trolled is­lands in May, un­der a 'free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion' stunt. These are in­deed, dis­turb­ing events.

The 22nd meet­ing of the For­eign Min­is­ters of the 10-mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions was held at Kuala Lumpur on 5-7Au­gust. The ASEAN Plus Three (China, Ja­pan, and south Korea) and Di­a­logue Part­ners (USA, In­dia, and Aus­tralia)also play im­por­tant role in ASEAN de­lib­er­a­tions.

Un­for­tu­nately, China has been fac­ing ag­gra­vated chal­lenges with re­gard to its mar­itime dis­putes with a num­ber of East Asian na­tions. Re­newed ten­sion has been height­en­ing be­tween China, Philip­pines and Viet­nam. Why are these dis­putes gain­ing a new mo­men­tum at this time? Is it be­cause of the US pivot to Asia pol­icy or be­cause of the rise of China as eco­nomic and strate­gic power in Asi­aPa­cific? Ja­pan is just try­ing to seek an as­sertive role in Asia-Pa­cific. Is it a US back­ing? There could be other rea- sons as well.

China de­fends its po­si­tion. It builds an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land and run­away that soured the re­cent gath­er­ing at Kuala Lumpur. Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi con­firmed that China has halted the con­trac­tion work.

Time and again China re­it­er­ated that it does not plan to use this ar­ti­fi­cial is­land for mil­i­tary pur­poses but for civil­ian pur­poses to ex­tend co­op­er­a­tion to South East Asian na­tions. Is this re­cent clash backed by the United States and Ja­pan? The Philip­pines has taken the claim against China for UN's ar­bi­tra­tion, which China ob­jects to.

Wang Yi ac­cused the Philip­pines of ' dis­tort­ing the truth over the is­sue', say­ing 'mul­ti­ple in­ter­na­tional treaties granted is­lands and reefs to China'. 'The Philip­pines il­le­gally oc­cu­pied is­lands and reefs in the Spratly Is­lands af­ter 1970, trig­ger­ing the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute', he stated.

China out-rightly re­jects the claims of both the Philip­pines and Viet­nam. It has also shown se­ri­ous con­cern about the ASEAN's state­ment. The Code of Con­duct, signed in 2013,moved slowly and China has shown its worry about it. If no speedy and pos­i­tive progress was made un­der the Code of Con­duct, China-ASEAN multi-bil­lion trade (US$ 500 bil­lion at present) could be af­fected. Wang Yi is right to be asked to down play the ten­sion as there is no ma­jor es­ca­la­tion.

New Delhi is coun­ter­ing China from South Asia to South China Sea. It has asked them to pre­vent the multi­bil­lion China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) es­pe­cially in the area of Kash­mir un­der Pak­istan's con­trol. To sabotage it, In­dia has set up a cell in its in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tion, RAW, a cou­ple of months ago. New Delhi also jumps into the con­tro­versy of South China Sea by say­ing it af­fects its eco­nomic and strate­gic in­ter­ests. This means that In­dia is com­ing with full swing to di­lute Chi­nese Asia's de­vel­op­ment strate­gies. In­dia's Min­is­ter of State for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, VK Singh, who at­tended the sum­mit, sup­ported the po­si­tions of Viet­nam and Philip­pines and other coun­tries on the mat­ter against China. In­dia's Act East pol­icy is all-out in sup­port of East Asian na­tions against China.

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