July 10th, 2012 | Global Times ASEAN should stick to mediating role
The 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting is convening in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Philippines and Vietnam are attempting to put the South China Sea issue on the table.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in the meeting amid intensive visits to three ASEAN countries. It is unlikely that Secretary Clinton will distance herself from conflicts between ASEAN countries and China.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are originally bilateral conflicts between China and countries including Vietnam and the Philippines. The aim of making it an international issue has overlapping interests with the US. Now the issue is developing toward that direction.
Nevertheless, China does not need to fret over it. The bilateral approach advocated by China hasn’t prevailed yet, but the multilateral approach will not boost the legitimacy of the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines.
ASEAN can only play a role in mediating, and never dictate affairs concerning territorial demarcation. As long as ASEAN remains rational, it will not accept Vietnam and the Philippines’ request.
The South China Sea issue would be much worse than today if it hadn’t been for China’s restraint. But it would be extremely naïve of Manila and Hanoi to press China to hold back more.
Public opinion in China is already on the brink of boiling over. Further provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines would mean direct confrontation with China’s angry public.
The South China Sea issue is made complicated by the two countries and the involvement of the US. If the trend persists, it is difficult to tell how it will unfold and which party will suffer or benefit.
Whatever waves Manila and Hanoi are trying to create, it won’t bring a strategic threat to China, though its attention will be diverted.
If ASEAN becomes deeply embroiled and the South China Sea issue tops its agenda, it will mean an evolutionary change in ASEAN’s geopolitical role. ASEAN is not ready for it, and no agreement will be reached among its members.
The trio of the US, China and ASEAN is unlikely to go back to the Cold War era when the US and ASEAN jointly opposed China. A few individuals may hope for this now, but it cannot become policy since it clashes with ASEAN’s real interests.
Seeking help in ASEAN will give no assistance to Vietnam and the Philippines, other than psychological comfort. They should be clear that territorial disputes involving big powers have never been solved through seeking international help.
China will not sacrifice its territorial interest due to pressure from international opinion. Other big powers won’t risk their own national interests to confront China in the South China Sea.
By Global Times