ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Japan, US, Asean must team up to counter China’s maritime advance
Publication Date : 20-09-2013
It is becoming apparent that China intends to strengthen its hegemony in the South China Sea while stalling for time in drawing up a code of conduct to avoid hostilities.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held the first official talks among senior officials to move toward deciding on a code of conduct to regulate the activities of countries concerned in the South China Sea.
Yet China remained halfhearted over the issue throughout the talks, with the meeting only deciding on the establishment of a meeting of experts.
In the South China Sea, China is in conflict with such Asean countries as the Philippines and Vietnam regarding sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and other islands and reefs.
China asserts a claim of exclusive sovereignty over not only the Spratly Islands but nearly all of the South China Sea. Yet it has not brought the international community around to its point of view.
For over a decade, the Asean countries have been trying to secure agreement from China on the establishment of rules of conduct to prevent overt hostilities in the South China Sea. Yet, with its overwhelming military and economic power, China refused to hold such a meeting until recently.
It is regrettable that even when China finally did come to the negotiating table, it proposed discussing other issues instead and would not go into a detailed discussion on the code of conduct.
In the South China Sea, with no code of conduct for concerned countries, the crisis is only deepening. The current focal point lies in the conflict between the Philippines and China.
Around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, over which both countries claim sovereignty, naval vessels from the two sides faced each other for two months. The government of the Philippines said after it moved its vessels away, China placed concrete blocks on the shoal.
Earlier this year, the Philippines filed a request for arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, asserting that China’s claim of sovereignty over the shoal is unlawful. This month, China held an exhibition inviting heads of Asean member countries. But the president of the Philippines was not invited.
The snub must be interpreted as an attempt by China to rebuke the Philippines over the country’s having taken legal action against China.
It is understandable that the Philippines, pressured physically by China, has been intensifying relations with the United States and Japan.
While having expanded a joint military exercise with the United States, the Philippines is moving ahead in talks with the United States that are likely to lead, in effect, to the stationing of US forces in the Philippines again. There is a possibility that the Subic naval base, once a strategic foothold for the United States, will again be used for the deployment of US forces.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, since he took office last December, has intensively visited Asean countries and presented his plan of providing 10 patrol vessels to the Philippines.
For both Japan and the United States, which face the expanding presence of China in the East China Sea and the western Pacific, the significance of cooperating with Asean member countries by taking concerted actions with them is not limited to the South China Sea. It will help their efforts to check China from expanding its maritime activities elsewhere as well.