South China Sea: China’s Neighbors Afraid To Takes Sides Against China


Southeast Asian nations may welcome US patrol near territory claimed by China but will be reluctant to choose between the two countries

By Nectar Gan
South China Morning Post

Image: Chinese destroyer Taizhou renders passing honors at sea. RIA photo

Most Southeast Asian countries with stakes in the South China Sea will take a cautious stand on the latest Sino-US confrontation, even though they may be happy to see a challenge to China’s claims in the disputed waters, according to observers.

The fallout from a US Navy patrol close to artificial islands China has built in the sea is likely to be high on the agenda next week when defence ministers from Southeast Asia, China and the United States meet in Kuala Lumpur and President Xi Jinping visits Vietnam.

“I suspect many states in the region welcome the move as it symbolically underscores two things,” said Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“First, the freedom of navigation [and overflight] in the South China Sea; second, their opposition to China’s disputed claim to massive parts of the South China Sea.”

Oh Ei Sun, another senior fellow with the RSIS’ Malaysia Programme, said that although Southeast Asian nations with territorial claims in the waters were happy to see the US uphold freedom of navigation, they were on alert for China’s response.

“We know China must respond, but we don’t know to what extent,,” Oh said.

“At worst, it might declare the whole South China Sea part of its air defence identification zone, it could claim more islands, or it might send ships within 12 nautical miles [22km] of other countries’ territorial limits.”

China, which had previously been reluctant to discuss the dispute in multilateral forums, was expected to take a more proactive approach in the defence ministers’ meeting next week, he said.

A US Navy vessel patrolled near Subi Reef in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

The Indonesian government expressed disapproval about the US naval manoeuvres, calling it a “power projection”. But the Philippines, a US ally with large overlapping territorial claims with China, voiced support for what it saw as an assertion of freedom of navigation.

Australia was considering sending its own vessel close to China’s artificial islands, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said that if Australia followed suit, its move would put pressure on US allies in Southeast Asia to do the same.

“The Philippines has more tension with China, so it is willing to be seen as siding with the US against China,” he said. “But Thailand is guarded, because no Asean country genuinely wants to choose between China and the US.

“They want to wait and see, and would hope that this episode is not prolonged and the tension would subside.”

Tang Siew Mun, a senior fellow with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said: “At the end of the day, there is a limit to the efficacy of gunboat diplomacy. Asean [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the claimant states would need to find a way to work with China for a peaceful management and eventual resolution to the disputes.”

Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China and Vietnam were likely to strengthen their consensus on the South China Sea during Xi’s visit to Vietnam, showing that China wanted to resolve the disputes through dialogue.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Neighbours wary of taking sides



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One Response to “South China Sea: China’s Neighbors Afraid To Takes Sides Against China”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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