- Posted 07 Sep 2016 12:41
- Updated 07 Sep 2016 12:50
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets China Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos. (Photo: Justin Ong)
VIENTIANE, Laos: The strained relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China due to South China Sea disputes can be harnessed into continued economic growth, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sep 7).
ASEAN members like the Philippines and Vietnam are currently in dispute with China over claims to parts of the South China Sea.
Speaking at the ASEAN-China Summit to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the two parties’ dialogue relations, Mr Lee reminded those in attendance – including China Premier Li Keqiang, whom he met on Wednesday – that “even in the strongest of relationships, issues will arise from time to time”.
“One such issue is the South China Sea. However, every crisis presents an opportunity,” said Mr Lee. “This issue can be turned to our advantage in pursuit of the common goal of regional peace and stability, which are essential prerequisites for continued economic growth.”
He hailed China’s proposal to formulate a framework for a Code of Conduct for rules of engagement in the South China Sea by the first half of 2017, and promised that Singapore – as coordinator of ASEAN-China relations – would work with Beijing to “fast-track negotiations”.
“Therefore, let us keep our overall relations in the proper perspective. Our relations are much broader than any one issue,” said Mr Lee. “We can continue to chart positive trajectory for ASEAN-China relations.”
ASEAN: CHINA’S LARGEST TRADING PARTNER?
Turning his attention to ASEAN-China’s economic ties, Mr Lee emphasised the latter’s position as the top trading partner for “almost every ASEAN member state”.
“Two‐way trade has grown enormously, from US$8 billion 25 years ago to US$370 billion now,” he said.
Mr Lee cited an upgrade to the ASEAN‐China Free Trade Area, effective for more than half of the parties by this October, along with a finalisation of the Joint Statement on Production Capacity Cooperation as examples.
“Our efforts at economic cooperation will bring us closer to our target of US$1 trillion of bilateral trade and US$150 billion in investments by 2020 and by then, ASEAN could potentially surpass the EU and US to become China’s largest trading partner,” he said.
Mr Lee noted that ASEAN and China’s 25-year dialogue relations have “developed a dynamic partnership with cooperating in a wide range of areas”. These are relations grounded in principles of mutual benefit and respect for ‘ASEAN Centrality’, he added.
“China’s success benefits the region, and it is also in China’s interest for ASEAN to succeed.,” he concluded. “As the ASEAN-China country coordinator, Singapore would do our part to advance this important relationship in all areas of mutual benefit.”
In the South China Sea, China’s Coast Guard seen as “Destabilizing Force”
Chinese coast guard ship
Wed Sep 7, 2016 1:24am EDT
Increasingly assertive action by China’s coast guard ships in the South China Sea risks destabilizing the region, according to the authors of new research tracking maritime law enforcement incidents across the vital trade route.
While the risks of full-blown naval conflict dominates strategic fears over the disputed waterway, the danger of incidents involving coast guards should not be underestimated, said Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.
CSIS researchers have detailed some 45 clashes and standoffs in the South China Sea since 2010 in a survey published on its ChinaPower website on Wednesday. (here)
While the research includes clashes between a variety of regional states and types of vessels, the actions of China’s coast guard dominates the picture. China’s coast guard has been involved in 30 of the cases logged, two-thirds of the total. Four other incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel operating in a law enforcement capacity.
“The evidence is clear that there is a pattern of behavior from China that is contrary to what law enforcement usually involves,” Glaser told Reuters.
“We’re seeing bullying, harassment and ramming of vessels from countries whose coast guard and fishing vessels are much smaller, often to assert sovereignty throughout the South China Sea.”
The research includes the violent maritime stand-off between Beijing and Hanoi over the placement of a Chinese oil exploration rig off the Vietnamese coast in 2014, as well as tensions that led up to China’s occupation of the Scarborough Shoal off the Philippines in 2012.
It is being published as Chinese coast guard and other vessels return to Scarborough, sparking formal diplomatic protests from Manila.
China’s State Oceanic Administration, which oversees the coast guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the research.
The research defines an incident where a nation’s coast guard or navy has used coercive measures beyond routine law enforcement action.
In the short term, Glaser said she believed the risk of injury or death could be worse in civilian clashes than among navies patrolling the South China Sea, given the frequency and intensity of incidents in recent years.
Encounters by rival coast guards are not yet covered by expanding communications arrangements that are geared to preventing clashes between the region’s naval forces.
The survey cites research showing the unifying of China’s civilian maritime fleets in 2013, coupled with on-going budget increases, has given it the world’s largest coast guard.
It now deploys some 205 vessels, including 95 ships over 1,000 tonnes, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence – a far larger fleet than other regional countries, including Japan.
China claims much of the South China Sea, which carries the bulk of Northeast Asia’s trade with the rest of the world. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the area.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast)
A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. China has been using its coast guard to coerce, intimidate and even attack vessels from the Philippines, Vietnam and other South China Sea neighbors. (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel (R) passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (L) in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam June 13, 2014. China has been using its coast guard to coerce, intimidate and even attack vessels from the Philippines, Vietnam and other South China Sea neighbors. REUTERS/Nguyen Minh