Posts Tagged ‘Association of Southeast Asian Nations’

Donald Trump To Skip Two Major Asia Summits

September 3, 2018

President Donald Trump will skip two major summits in Asia in November, a move that could stoke concerns in the region about the U.S.’s reliability as a counterweight to China.

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The White House said Friday that Vice President Mike Pence would travel to Singapore for an 18-nation summit hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, before heading to Papua New Guinea for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering. The APEC summit is normally attended by 21 leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The decision removes a potential avenue for Trump to meet with Xi as a trade war between the U.S. and China deepens. The U.S. is leaning toward a fresh round of tariffs against Chinese imports, this time for $200 billion in goods, in what would mark a significant escalation. Xi and Trump are expected to attend the Group of 20 summit in Argentina later in November, though.

Trump’s absence is also likely to fuel concerns among Asian leaders who want the U.S. to push back against China’s increasing economic and military might.


Trump administration officials have been promoting a new “Indo-Pacific” strategy to bolster its commitment to the fast-growing region, after Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and questioned the cost of security alliances with Japan and South Korea.

“His absence would doubtlessly solidify the impression that America has essentially abandoned its traditional presence in the Asia Pacific, not to mention the non-starter Indo-Pacific,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior adviser for international affairs at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute in Kuala Lumpur.

“Not a good move when trying to show the region how important the Indo-Pacific strategy is,” Conor Cronin, research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said on Twitter. Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the conservative Heritage Foundation, simply tweeted “Mistake.”

Symbolism Matters

Without Trump, Xi will have more space to advocate for Chinese trade and development projects, such as his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Xi was the first leader to confirm his attendance to the APEC meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where he also plans to host his own summit with Pacific leaders.

“Symbolism matters. The Chinese have made gains when his predecessors have not attended,” tweeted author and commentator Gordon Chang.

Although U.S. leaders have attended the events in recent years, missing them isn’t without precedent. In 2007, then U.S. President George W. Bush drew flak for rescheduling a planned meeting with Asean leaders in Singapore.

Former President Barack Obama, whose administration announced a pivot in military and diplomatic resources to Asia, skipped the October 2013 APEC meeting in Indonesia while the federal government faced a shutdown crisis.

Obama’s absence that year was seen as a gift to China, whose officials emphasized their interest in the region to countries in attendance. Similarly, in November, a large Chinese contingent is expected in Port Moresby to promote Belt and Road.

Read more: New Silk Road Spreads China’s Money and Influence: QuickTake

Scott Morrison in Indonesia, Aug. 31.

Photographer: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

Allies put their best face on Trump’s decision. Newly installed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters during a trip to Jakarta on Saturday that Trump’s decision to tend to matters at home was understandable, adding that Pence “speaks with the authority of the president.”

Morrison invited Trump to visit Australia as part of his Asian swing during a “very warm” phone call after becoming prime minister in August, local media reported. His predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, also invited Trump to Australia.

After Mid-Terms

The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Pence’s visit to the Southeast Asian city-state, noting in a statement that it would be his first as vice president.

The Asian summits come days after midterm Congressional elections, which may determine Trump’s ability to withstand investigations into Russian campaign interference and election-season payments to alleged mistresses. While Democratic leaders have largely avoided talking about impeaching Trump, Republican losses in the House or the Senate would greatly increase the risk of congressional action.

Still, Trump plans to visit Paris on Nov. 11 for a commemoration of the armistice ending World War I, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Friday. On the same trip, he’ll visit Ireland “to renew the deep and historic ties between our two nations,” Sanders added. During his trip to South America to attend the Group of 20 meeting he’ll also travel to Colombia, she said.

After the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP, trade ministers from the 11 remaining participant nations — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — signed a new agreement in Chile on March 8.

Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said recent efforts by American officials in the region should help offset Trump’s absence.

Among them: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced $300 million in regional security funding at a recent Asean meeting, a sum he said would be augmented by private capital. The U.S. military is currently among nine nations participating annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training exercises in Singapore.

“The U.S. will still be regarded and expected to remain committed and engaged with the region and there’ll still be significant efforts of regional countries to keep the U.S. presence in the region as the China shadow looms in the background,” Koh said.


Singapore says agreement on world’s biggest trade deal in November

September 2, 2018

Singapore’s trade minister said on Saturday that broad agreement on the world’s biggest trade deal should be reached at a summit of leaders from participating nations in the city-state in November, six years since talks began.
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File image of Singapore minister Chan Chun Sing. Reuters

Called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the trade accord includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the world’s no 2 economy, China.

The deal does not include the United States, which is locked in a trade spat with China and pulled out of another broad, international trade agreement in 2017 called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The White House said on Friday that US president Donald Trump would skip the November gathering of leaders in Singapore.

Asked by Reuters after a meeting of regional economic ministers if participating countries were working towards a deal in time for the mid-November summit, trade minister Chan Chun Sing said:

“Yes. We are looking for that broad agreement, that milestone, to be achieved… when the leaders meet at the end of the year.”

However, he said it was not clear when a final deal would be signed.

“As to the next phase of the work, once we have crossed that milestone we will have a clearer idea… It’s a bit too early to say at this point in time,” Sing said.

China-backed trade pact talks at ‘critical stage’: Singapore PM

August 29, 2018

Talks on a China-backed free-trade pact have reached a “critical stage”, Singapore’s leader said Wednesday as he urged regional economic ministers to seal the deal by the end of the year.

The 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will be the world’s biggest free-trade accord if it is agreed, has taken centre stage as Washington embarks on a unilateral, protectionist agenda.

Covering about half the world’s population, the RCEP notably excludes the US, which had been leading another regional pact — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — until President Donald Trump abandoned it on coming to office early last year.

“The RCEP negotiations have continued for some time, and have now reached a critical stage,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he opened a five-day meeting of economy ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

© AFP | Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened the meeting of ASEAN economy ministers by warnings about escalating trade tensions between major economies

The Singapore meeting will be joined later in the week by top trade officials from ASEAN’s main trading partners, including China, Japan, Australia and the US.

“After a great deal of work, the possibility of substantively concluding the RCEP negotiations is finally in sight,” he said.

Lee also warned about escalating tensions between the US and China — who have been locked in a spiralling trade row — and other major economies including the eurozone and Canada.

“The RCEP will be an important signal to the world that ASEAN members and our partners place high value on free trade, regional integration and international cooperation,” he said.

The pact will group the 10 ASEAN members plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and will cover a third of the world’s gross domestic product.

A diplomatic source said Singapore, this year’s ASEAN chair, is pushing for an agreement on the RCEP before handing over the chairmanship to Thailand in 2019.

Another source involved in the talks said ASEAN leaders hope to announce the “substantial conclusion” of negotiations during a summit in November with their main trading partners, and they expect the pact to be implemented in 2020.

Beijing is keen to use Washington’s rejection of the TPP to build enthusiasm for its own deal and increase influence in the region.

RCEP is a more modest deal that prescribes lower and more limited regulatory standards.

The 11 remaining TPP members signed a slimmed down version of the agreement in March.


ASEAN, China agree ‘milestone’ text as basis for South China Sea talks

August 2, 2018

Southeast Asian nations and China have reached a “milestone” in talks with China over a code of conduct in the South China Sea with a working text that will serve as a basis for future negotiations, Singapore’s foreign minister said on Friday.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks to the media after bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A number of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) and China have overlapping claims to islands in the sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways. For years they have been discussing an agreement to prevent escalation.

“I am pleased to announce yet another milestone in the COC (code of conduct) process,” Vivian Balakrishnan said at the start of a meeting of regional foreign ministers and China.

“AMS (ASEAN member states) and China have arrived at a single draft COC negotiating text, which will be a living document and the basis of future COC negotiations.”


Southeast Asian nations are delighted by progress with China, Russia

August 2, 2018

Southeast Asian nations are set to announce agreement with China on a working text for negotiations over a code of conduct to ease tension in the disputed South China sea at a meeting that began on Thursday.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, poses with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for a photo during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Meeting in Singapore, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Joseph Nair)

A draft communique seen by Reuters shows the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also aims to soon reach a cybersecurity deal with Russia, which the United States has accused of election meddling, following hacks in the region.

The communique, which reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to an ambitious trade pact backed by China, is set to be issued by ASEAN foreign ministers on Saturday at the close of the meeting of top diplomats in Singapore.

“We noted with satisfaction the ASEAN member states and China had agreed on a single draft COC (Code of Conduct) negotiating text,” read the draft communique, adding that it was reached in June during high-level talks in China.

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ASEAN also urged steps for “the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, saying it welcomed a pact between the United States and North Korea at June’s landmark summit in Singapore.

Speaking on the event sidelines, the Chinese government’s top diplomat on Thursday called for a push to establish a peace mechanism for the Korean peninsula as well as denuclearization.

China, along with North Korea and the United States, is a signatory to the armistice that concluded the 1950-53 Korean War, rather than a peace treaty.

“We should, at the same time as realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, push forward with establishing a peace mechanism for the peninsula,” said Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi.

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During the next few days, Southeast Asian nations also hope to strike a cybersecurity agreement with Russia, the draft document showed.

“We welcome the further strengthening (of) our cooperation in cybersecurity with Russia through the issuance of the statement of ASEAN and Russian foreign ministers,” it said.

Singapore, the meeting’s host, suffered its worst cyberattack in July, when hackers stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, from a government health database.

Malaysia this year said it had foiled a cyber heist of its central bank.

Neither country has identified the hackers and neither suggested the involvement of Russia, which last year appointed a dedicated ambassador to ASEAN based in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said a Russian propaganda arm tried to tamper with the 2016 presidential election by posting and buying ads on Facebook. Moscow has denied involvement.

Facebook said it has identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead its users and sow dissension among voters ahead of November’s U.S. congressional elections.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks to the media after bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su


Southeast Asian nations and China have overlapping claims to islands in the South China Sea. For years they have been discussing an agreement to prevent escalation in one of the world’s busiest waterways.

The draft to be announced will form the basis of further discussions, likely to be lengthy, before a final version is reached.

Critics have said the emphasis on reaching a consensus for the code of conduct works in China’s favor as a delaying tactic to ease criticism of its militarization of man-made islands in the disputed region.

The statement, set against the backdrop of the protectionist trade policies of the United States, also reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to wrap up a major trade pact backed by China, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“We reiterated the priority placed by ASEAN on the RCEP as a centerpiece of its external economic relations, particularly at a time of growing uncertainties in global trade,” it said.

Singapore’s prime minister said on Thursday the deal would create the world’s largest trading bloc, covering a third of the global economy.

The United States, set to meet ASEAN leaders on Friday, has said it will press Southeast Asia to keep up sanctions on Pyongyang.

That follows reports of renewed activity at the factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Reporting by John Geddie, Christian Shepherd and Jack Kim in SINGAPORE and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez


ASEAN and China Set to Agree on Single Draft South China Sea Code of Conduct

July 29, 2018

According to the annotated draft of the Joint Communique of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to be issued in Singapore early next month, viewed by The Diplomat, the ministers:

… noted with satisfaction that ASEAN Member States and China had agreed on a Single Draft COC [Code of Conduct] Negotiating Text at the 15th ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea [SOM-DOC] in Changsha, China on 27 June 2018.

An internal ASEAN report on the 15th SOM-DOC, also sighted by The Diplomat, records the endorsement of senior officials on four points.

Second, the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text “will be the basis of COC negotiations… [and is] a living document. All parties reserved the right to consult with their domestic agencies and submit new or revised input.”First, “all parties shall keep the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text strictly confidential throughout the entire process of COC negotiations.”

Third, the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text will be submitted to the ASEAN-China Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) to be held in Singapore from 2-3 August for notation. The announcement that ASEAN and China had agreed on the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text “will be reserved for the ASEAN-China PMC.”

Fourth, senior officials agreed that there, “will be at least three readings of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text” by the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC). After each reading the draft text “will be submitted to the SOM-DOC.” The JWG-DOC “will not be precluded from surfacing issues on the COC to the SOM-DOC for consideration and guidance while each reading is underway.”

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It is likely that the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text will be conducted at the 25th JWG-DOC to be held in Siem Reap, Cambodia from 1-2 September and that the second reading will occur at the 26th JWG-DOC meeting to be held back-to-back with the 16th SOM-DOC in Manila from October 23 to 26.

What is the significance of the agreement between ASEAN members and China on a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text?

It should be recalled that ASEAN and China first began discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea after China occupied Mischief Reef in 1995. The two sides exchanged their respective COC drafts in March 2000 and agreed to draw up a consolidated text. However, they could not reach agreement on four major issues: the geographic scope (inclusion of the Paracel islands), restrictions on construction on occupied and unoccupied features, military activities in waters adjacent to the Spratly islands, and whether or not fishermen found in disputed waters could be detained and arrested.

As a result, ASEAN and China then concluded negotiations on the DOC, a non-binding political statement, in November 2002. The DOC states that, “the Parties concerned reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual attainment of this objective.”

It took two years of discussions before ASEAN and China reached agreement on the terms of reference establishing the Joint ASEAN-China Working Group to implement the DOC.

At the first meeting of the JWC-DOC in August 2005, ASEAN tabled draft guidelines to implement the DOC. Point two of the ASEAN draft called for ASEAN consultations prior to meeting with China. This proved to be a sticking point. Another six years of intermittent discussions and the exchange of twenty-one successive drafts took place before final agreement was reached. ASEAN revised point two to read that ASEAN would “promote dialogue and consultation among the parties.”

In sum, the discussions on implementing the DOC and drawing up a COC are between China and the 10 ASEAN member states and not ASEAN, per se. Prior to the 15th SOM-DOC in June this year, there were several drafts in circulation presented by individual countries and this proved politically sensitive if not an obstacle to reaching agreement on a consolidated text. Now each of the 11 parties have become stakeholders in the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text process.

While there may be light at the end of the COC tunnel, it must be noted that the full and effective implementation of the 2002 DOC is a prerequisite before the COC can be implemented. The DOC calls for cooperation in five areas: marine environmental protection; marine scientific research; safety of navigation and communication at sea; search and rescue operations; and combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms.

The internal ASEAN report on the 15th SOM-DOC noted that progress has been made in this area. The SOM endorsed the Work Plan on the Implementation of the DOC (2016-18) and took note of the two ad hoc technical meetings held in conjunction with the 24th JWG-DOC on 25 June. The technical meetings discussed marine environmental protection and safety of navigation.

Here too, progress is likely to be protracted. The internal ASEAN report on the 15th SOM-DOC noted that, “some parties encouraged the convening of ad-hoc technical meetings to enhance practical cooperation for the benefit of DOC implementation.” In discussions on the situation in the South China Sea, the internal ASEAN report noted that, “some parties also reiterated the importance of self-restraint and non-militarization and of refraining from actions that would escalate tensions in the South China Sea.” The wording of these two sentences indicates that consensus has not yet been reached and more work needs to be done.

The annotated draft of the Joint Communique of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting runs to 29 pages including 70 numbered paragraphs. Seven countries plus the ASEAN Secretariat inserted 176 suggested changes. Thailand topped the list at 30 percent, followed by Indonesia (21 percent), Brunei (16 percent), Malaysia (14 percent), Philippines (10 percent), Singapore (6 percent), and Myanmar and the ASEAN Secretariat making up the final 3 percent. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam did not make any interventions.

The South China Sea section of the Joint Communique of the 51st AMM contains only two paragraphs. Three countries suggested a total of six revisions – Brunei four and the Philippines and Singapore one each.

The first paragraph of the South China Sea section (point 65) reaffirms the importance of “peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity.” This is followed by a call for the “full and effective implementation” of the DOC “in its entirety.” It then notes that the ASEAN foreign ministers:

… warmly welcomed the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) on a mutually-agreed timeline.

The text then mentions the foreign ministers’ “satisfaction that ASEAN Member States and China had agreed on a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text” at the 15th SOM-DOC. This paragraph contains an annotation by Brunei requesting that this sentence be deleted on the grounds that the ASEAN-China PMC should make the announcement since it will convene after the 51st AMM.

Singapore, according to the annotation, responded that the sentence should be retained because the 51st AMM Joint Communique “will likely be released after the ASEAN-China PMC. Hence, we can reference Single Draft here.” Singapore also noted that agreement on a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text “is factual, regardless of the announcement by the ASEAN and China FMs [foreign ministers].” Singapore, as ASEAN Chair, appears to want to tie down reference to the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text at both senior official and ministerial levels.

The text also took note of the successful testing of the hotline to manage maritime emergencies in the South China Sea between the foreign ministries of China and ASEAN member states and operationalization of the Joint Statement on the Application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in the South China Sea. This highlights that progress has been made in two of the five areas of cooperation spelled out in the DOC.

According to the annotation, Brunei suggested the insertion of a new paragraph and additional text to read: “We stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures to enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties.”

The second paragraph in the South China Sea section (point 66) “took note of the concerns expressed by some countries on the land reclamations ‘and activities’ [suggested insertion by Brunei] in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region. Brunei suggested a minor revision in the follow on sentence.

The final intervention, by the Philippines, suggested moving a sentence that referred to the forthcoming ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise to an earlier section of the Joint Communique. In the first section of the Joint Communique, headed ASEAN Community Building, the Philippines also suggested moving point 8, with its reference to “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes,” forward to point 2 to highlight the importance of the Arbitral Tribunal that heard the case brought by the Philippines against China.

The Zero Draft of the Chairman’s Statement of the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) 10 + 1 Sessions with the Dialogue Partners (August 2-3), also viewed by The Diplomat, repeated verbatim the wording in the annotated draft of the Joint Communique of the 51st AMM with respect to the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text and then added these words “and encouraged further progress towards an effective COC.”

It appears that under Singapore’s diplomatic leadership, as ASEAN Chair and ASEAN country coordinator for China, progress is being made to develop cooperative activities envisaged in the 2002 DOC, a prerequisite for the implementation of the COC. At the same time, Singapore has succeeded in focusing the attention of ASEAN member states and China on completing a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text on a mutually agreed time line including at least three readings of the draft text.

Singapore’s successful efforts at consensus-making at this 51st AMM stand in contrast to the fissures that emerged earlier in April when the South China Sea section of the Chairman’s Statement  at the 32nd ASEAN Leaders’ Summit was reduced from seven to one paragraph in an attempt to paper over differences. This time Cambodia and Vietnam were conspicuous by their silence.

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Asean: Building China’s Confidence in the South China Sea

July 29, 2018

During this year’s chairmanship of ASEAN, Singapore is expected to continue the association’s work in developing measures to help mitigate tensions in the South China Sea. In recent years, ASEAN and China have agreed to establish communication hotlines between their respective foreign ministries as well as to implement the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). CUES is intended to reduce incidents between the navies (and eventually the coast guards) of littoral states.

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Association of Southeast Asian Nations Director General Lim Jock Hoi meets China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Credit Reuters, Greg Baker

A framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) was agreed upon in May 2017 — an incredible 25 years since the need for a COC was first acknowledged. The implementation of its predecessor (the 2002 Declaration of Conduct) continues to be discussed.

In February 2018, China agreed to start negotiating details of the COC with ASEAN. To date, there is no clarity on whether the outcome document will be ‘legally binding’ as originally envisioned. This lack of clarity is due to the difficulty of establishing verification and enforcement mechanisms among parties with such highly asymmetric power capabilities.

One obvious shortcoming of any COC is that it is limited to China and ASEAN as the negotiating parties. The South China Sea issue has evolved from the original question in the 1990s of managing territorial and maritime disputes between ASEAN states and China into a broader geostrategic contest between China and the United States, with ASEAN caught in the middle. China has little incentive to allow its behaviour to be constrained by agreements to which the United States, or any other major power that operates in the South China Sea, is not similarly obliged to adhere.

China’s current willingness to commit to COC negotiations with ASEAN is likely motivated by a desire to undercut further involvement by the United States. Under US President Donald Trump, the United States has increased and upgraded its freedom of navigation operations in the disputed areas. The indications that Taiwan — with the independence-inclined Democratic Progressive Party in control — may re-emerge as a flashpoint in US–Chinese relations enhances the strategic value of the surrounding seas.

ASEAN is not oblivious to these new challenges. A number of constructive proposals remain on its multilateral cooperation agenda. CUES was expanded last year to include all members of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+), a forum that consists of ASEAN countries’ defence ministers and their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States. The ADMM+ has since 2013 actively conducted multilateral maritime exercises that largely focus on non-traditional security challenges, such as terrorism. In preparation for the ADMM+ meeting in October 2018, Singaporean Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen has actively endorsed expanding the CUES agreement to include the prevention of military incidents in the air.

Plans are also reported for an inaugural ASEAN–China maritime exercise that is likely to involve search-and-rescue and disaster-relief scenarios. This was an initiative that China first raised in 2015 at an ‘informal’ meeting of Chinese and ASEAN defence officials. Several ASEAN states are already engaged in exchanges or joint drills with China, such as the Philippine Coast Guard and the navies of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

ASEAN now faces far more serious challenges in maintaining a central role in securing its own maritime spaces. Beijing has been offering itself to its neighbours in a new role as a provider of regional public goods, one of which is maritime security. This is logical given China’s legitimate interests in this area as a state with long coasts that face the South China Sea. But strategic distrust continues to get in the way of Southeast Asia’s receptivity. China has yet to successfully persuade other states that it will play by international rules and conventions, and this mistrust was exacerbated by China’s rejection of the 2016 arbitral award in the case filed by the Philippines.

Extra-regional states are realigning to try to balance China’s growing influence and capability. The revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the United States, Japan, Australia and India) and the US construction of an Indo-Pacific strategy that links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and East China Sea are predictable consequences of China’s rapid progress in military modernisation and its growing foreign policy assertiveness.

If ASEAN is to mitigate the territorial and maritime tensions in the South China Sea and if it is to avoid being overrun by Chinese domination and becoming an arena once again of great-power armed confrontation, it has to more convincingly demonstrate that it remains a backbone of security multilateralism. ASEAN must prove that its cooperative security approach remains viable even under (or especially under) the evolving geopolitical environment.

Confidence-building measures are no longer enough nor are they bound to be effective in achieving their self-explanatory goal. It may be time for ASEAN to go beyond confidence-building measures and reach much higher than its customary preference for low-hanging fruit. The ADMM+, as the most inclusive and productive platform thus far, may be the best bet to obtain what ASEAN needs.

To ensure a strong ADMM+, ASEAN member states must also develop ASEAN itself, whether through ADMM or ‘minus X’ arrangements, into an autonomous and cohesive bloc that is a constant advocate and activist for regional maritime security.

Aileen S P Baviera is a Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines and editor-in-chief of the journalAsian Politics & PolicyShe also heads the Philippine-based think tank Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress.


 (Over and over again, Cambodia has allowed China to get what it wants in the South China Sea — Making a mockery of ASEAN)

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The Philippines has extensive defenses on its island holdings


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

China has Plenty of Ideas on How To Win Trade War

July 18, 2018

Private investment and the European Union could be two sources of strength to counter China’s row with the United States, a report says

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2018, 10:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2018, 11:42am

China should spur private investment and consumption at home and ally with the European Union and Japan to help win a trade war against the US, a Chinese think tank has said, as Washington and Beijing engage in tit-for-tat tariffs.

In a report on Tuesday, Renmin University’s National Academy of Development and Strategy also said China should increase the dependence of multinationals on the Chinese market “by importing their products to China or enabling their localised production and sales” as another way to counterbalance the unilateralism of US President Donald Trump.

At the same time, China must be “flexible” in its tariff retaliation list and tighten controls over cross-border capital flows, it said.

Many of the suggestions are in line with China’s existing playbook and action taken since Trump escalated the hostilities with threats of another US$200 billion of Chinese goods with a 10 per cent tariff. China and the US had already exchanged 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion of each other’s goods.

China has taken the case to the World Trade Organisation for arbitration, but it has not yet announced any specific countermeasures.

“To fight US trade protectionism, [we] should make use of the different interests among countries to deepen economic cooperation with Japan, the EU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and Russia,” the report said.

The report was released a day after the annual China-EU Summit in Beijing, where there were signs of progress on a bilateral investment treaty.

But Renmin University professor Yu Chunhai, who co-authored the report, cautioned that the basis of cooperation between China and the EU cooperation was “not solid as we thought” because there was not much European involvement in the value chain of US-bound Chinese products.

On the home front, the think tank suggested that China boost domestic consumption by freeing up restrictions on private investment in areas like health care, education, tourism and social security.

China should also make the yuan exchange rate “more flexible” – a hint that Beijing might allow a greater yuan appreciation – and improve capital account controls to minimise impacts from “the US dollar and US monetary policy on Chinese monetary, financial and economic situation”.

Mei Xinyu, a researcher affiliated with China’s Ministry of Commerce, agreed with the suggestions, saying China had to improve its economic ties with the EU and Japan and use the trade war as a “pressure test” to spot economic vulnerabilities.

Renmin University vice-president Liu Yuanchun said the country had entered a “real period of difficulty” because the trade war came in the middle of “painful” structural adjustment for the country.

Liu said the row had already put a dent in investor confidence in the Chinese stock market and currency.

“We need to fine-tune our policies to offset a series of shocks, particularly external shocks … The trade war [with the US] is absolutely not based on economic but political logic. It won’t end immediately but to escalate step by step,” he said.



European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP File Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Philippines Learns A Hard Lesson About China: China Does Whatever China Pleases

May 8, 2018

Now there are Chinese missiles stationed inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ)….

In May 2014, China installed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, an area also claimed by Vietnam.

Refusing to take the provocation sitting down, Vietnam fired off a strongly worded diplomatic protest: “Vietnam demands China to withdraw the oil rig Haiyang 981 and all of its ships and aircraft from Vietnam’s waters and not to repeat similar actions,” said its Ministry of Affairs.


Image result for Haiyang 981, photos

Additionally, Vietnam sent 29 ships to try to stop the rig’s operations, with resulting confrontations and water-spraying incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels.

Vietnam also attempted to rally support against China’s actions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose member-countries Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines have overlapping territorial claims with Beijing.

Vietnam even asked that the United States, its former enemy, lend a “stronger voice” against China.

Singapore, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, other countries and the European Union also issued statements of concern, urging caution against “unilateral actions [that] could affect the security environment in the region,” as the EU statement put it.

Beijing eventually bowed to the pressure. In July of that year, it quietly removed the oil rig — a full month earlier than was first announced.

What does Vietnam have that the Philippines doesn’t?

A leadership not the least bit beholden to China, for one. Vietnam’s sense of ownership over its claimed territories is such that it was willing to employ all possible actions — diplomatic protest, international consensus, even physical confrontation with Chinese vessels — to defend itself against the encroachments of its giant neighbor. And over an oil rig, mind — in waters that were still officially undemarcated under international law.

Contrast that with the Philippine position, which won tremendous international legal and moral standing with its 2016 victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

That ruling not only invalidated China’s so-called historic claim over almost the entire South China Sea, it also declared that Beijing violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters that were within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

Those waters happen to include the Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban reefs — three features within the Philippine exclusive economic zone that China at first seized, then transformed into artificial islands.

All for peaceful purposes, it repeatedly said. But recently, with its reclamation all but complete and the Beijing-friendly Duterte administration not bothering to protest any of its actions, China has set aside all such pretense by confirming that it has militarized the area with the “deployment of necessary national defense facilities … aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty and security.”

The CNBC news network was more specific: It said China had deployed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on the Philippine-claimed reefs.

Will Malacañang now wake up to the grave implications to Philippine national security of its policy of appeasement toward Beijing?

Strangely, President Duterte remains completely besotted with his Chinese friends.

Not only are those weapons not directed at the Philippines and hence should pose no worry, said Malacañang; according to the President, China has also said, “We will protect you … We are just here and you can call for our help anytime.”

What kind of help is gobbling up the territory of a friendly country and — in violation of its own promise in 2015 — arming that territory to the gills?

Certainly, war is not an option to settle this dispute, but why, on the other hand, embrace the extreme opposite position of deference and obsequiousness to a country that has repeatedly run roughshod over Philippine interests?

Acquiescence has obviously not worked; it has only further emboldened China to take advantage of a complaisant government. Look at what two years of bowing and kowtowing has earned the Philippines thus far: foreign missiles in its own backyard.

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.



Malaysia’s Najib Says Rohingya Crisis Raises Regional Terror Threat

March 18, 2018

In a break from convention, prime minister criticizes a fellow Asean member at a summit

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a reception on Friday as part of the Asean summit in Sydney.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a reception on Friday as part of the Asean summit in Sydney. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

SYDNEY—Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak identified the Rohingya crisis as a major security threat to Southeast Asia, a rare criticism of a neighboring nation at a conference meant to engender better cooperation on security in the region.

Speaking at a counterterrorism conference in Sydney ahead of a special summit of regional leaders with Australia, Prime Minister Najib Razak broke with Association of Southeast Asian Nations convention to avert internal criticisms, warning bluntly that the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state could prove fertile ground for recruitment of Islamic State-inspired militants.

“Because of the suffering of Rohingya people and that of displacement around the region, the situation in Rakhine state and Myanmar can no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter,” Mr. Najib told fellow leaders including Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday.

“Rakhine, with thousands of despairing and exacted people, who see no hope in the future, will be a fertile ground for radicalization and recruitment of Daesh, by Daesh and Daesh-affiliated groups,” Mr. Najib said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Malaysia, he said, was ready to help steer diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, as well as Islamist conflicts in the southern Philippines and southern Thailand.

Ms. Suu Kyi didn’t respond to Mr. Najib’s comments and Myanmar’s government has previously rejected reports presented to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations that it had committed human rights crimes.

A Myanmar government spokesman, however, promised last month that action would be taken against soldiers and police as part of an army investigation into alleged atrocities in Rakhine.

Australia is hosting the special summit with nine of the 10 leaders from the association, known as Asean, to try to strengthen security and economic ties as a hedge against a more muscular China under President Xi Jinping and uncertainty about U.S. commitment to the region under President Donald Trump.

The leaders signed an agreement to increase cooperation on counterterrorism and combat the threat from Islamic State fighters returning to the region after the group’s defeats in Syria and Iraq. The Philippine government’s long battle to drive Islamic State-linked militants from the southern city of Marawi has drawn Asean members closer together on counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Najib’s remarks came at the end of the conference, at which Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the use of digital-messaging systems by terrorists and criminal groups had triggered “the most significant degradation of intelligence capability in modern times.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, opening the three-day summit, said regional security was inseparable from economic gains, calling for fellow leaders to support the “rules-based order” of international law as the U.S. and China jostle for influence in the region.

China has claimed territorial rights in most of the South China Sea, building and militarizing artificial atolls straddling strategic maritime trade routes in the face of challenges from neighbors including Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Asian leaders have come under pressure to raise human rights concerns with Ms. Suu Kyi over Myanmar’s military operations that have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Write to Rob Taylor at