[By Dr Mark J. Valencia]
On June 26, the leaders of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held their 36th annual summit by video conference. The pandemic was the main topic of discussions. Also high on the agenda was the South China Sea conundrum. In the run-up to the delayed summit, there were expectations in some quarters that the leaders – particularly of Vietnam and the Philippines – would strongly criticize China for its perceived transgressions against rival claimants in the South China Sea.
Predictably, such hopes were dashed, and the outcome of the meeting regarding the South China Sea was muted and ambiguous. That has left analysts to try to sort out the results by reading the proverbial tea leaves.
Over the past year, China has taken actions that have alarmed some other claimants and stoked the US narrative that China is a threat to the region. After the early April sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat due to a collision with a Chinese Coast Guard vessel in China’s claimed waters off the Paracels, the US State Department expressed serious concern, adding that “this incident is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims”.
This was simplistic hype that lumped together different political and geographic circumstances, as well as the degree of egregiousness and legitimacy of China’s actions. Each should be analyzed individually, and there may be reasonable explanations for many of them.
Vietnam has been the most vocal regional critic of China’s actions in the South China Sea. It is the current ASEAN Chair and was the summit host. In his opening speech, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, “While the entire world was fighting an epidemic, irresponsible actions that violate international laws and pose threats to security and stability were taking place in some areas, including Vietnam’s.”
But unlike the US, he did not call out China by name. Nor did any other leader – demonstrating respect, fear or both.
The Philippines is the current ASEAN lead interlocutor with China. President Rodrigo Duterte said little progress had been made “in producing deliverables” from the ASEAN–China dialogue. But perhaps his most significant observation was that ASEAN members and China “must find innovative ways and exercise flexibility to achieve our common goals”.
According to Philippines Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, at least half of the ten ASEAN leaders raised the South China Sea issue. One can assume that, besides Vietnam and the Philippines, this would include Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
The leaders were clearly concerned with the US-China military buildup in the region. As China’s Navy continues its modernization and projects power further out to sea, the US has responded by deploying forces from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared, “We’re going to make sure we’re postured appropriately to counter the PLA [People’s Liberation Army].”
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that it was “important for ASEAN to keep sending out messages to great powers involved in the dispute to maintain regional peace and stability in the South China Sea”.
Considering previous relevant statements by high-level Indonesian government officials, this appears to be a plea to both China and the US to back off and exercise more restraint in their military deployment in the region.
The statement of the ASEAN Chair said: “We underscored the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states which could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”
That could be interpreted to also mean a concern with the behavior of the US – which, unlike China, is a non-claimant. If this were truly the unanimous sentiment of ASEAN, it would be new.
The statement also “reaffirmed [emphasis added] that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereignty, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones.”
If this endorsement of the role of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in determining claims had been issued by ASEAN collectively and unanimously, it would indeed be a new level of veiled criticism of China’s claims. But it should be remembered that the non-negotiated Chairman’s statement was drafted by Vietnam, which has a particular axe to grind. Although many have seized on this as new, previous ASEAN Chair statements have referenced UNCLOS as the guide for resolving disputes. Also, several rival claimants have previously asserted that UNCLOS is the basis for claims and resolving disputes.
Although the US hasn’t ratified UNCLOS, Secretary of State Pompeo hypocritically welcomed the statement, adding that “China can’t be allowed to think about the South China Sea as its maritime empire”.
The overall result is a mishmash. The tea leaves say that in regard to the South China Sea, ASEAN is still, or yet more, disunited and worried about China-US confrontation and getting caught in between. In other words, for ASEAN and ASEAN–China relations in the South China Sea, little or nothing has changed.
Dr Mark J. Valencia is an internationally known maritime policy analyst, political commentator and consultant focused on Asia. He is the author or editor of some 15 books and more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles. He is an adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China.
This article appears courtesy of The Lowy Interpreter and is reproduced here in abbreviated form. It may be found in its original form here.
Go to Source
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]
Qatar Airways Cargo transported 56 SkyCell containers with vaccines from one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide on its scheduled freighter and belly-hold cargo flights for its customer, CEVA Logistics. The 54-tonne shipment consisting of pneumococcal and varicella vaccines were flown from Brussels to Mumbai via the carrier’s hub in Doha on two separate flights. […]