Last week 10 member ASEAN countries’ meet ended in debacle. China orchestrated it, Cambodia the host and indebted to China, ensured it.
China has become assertive in its claim to superiority in the Asia Pacific region, scaring neighbouring countries and pushing them, quite stupidly towards US pivot.
Resource rich South China Sea has become bone of contention between China and host of countries that use its waters. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have claims in South China Sea; but China claims almost all of the sea, including territory of Taiwan.
ASEAN members are known for their unity and have a treaty to help each other and resolve any matters concerning them collectively. But, last week, they failed, first time in 45 years to issue a communique’ at the end of their meeting. It is said that Cambodia which chaired it, and which receives huge amount of aid from China jeopardized it.
Philippines and Vietnam wanted to include in the communique’ their recent skirmishes with China in the South China Sea. But, Cambodia did not agree for this citing that the matter was bilateral and could not be a part of multilateral outcome document.
That is what China is doing – dividing the unity in Asia pacific. It is chosing one at a time to resolve its disputes. It knows well that collective strength of ASEAN is huge.
Unwittingly, this has led to rejigging in geopolitical alignments – Philippines and Vietnam are elevating their relationship with USA to strategic level. Both are fast growing countries, and to meet future energy needs, they are claiming parts of South China Sea that has vaguely defined territorial limits between each nations.
China claims Paracel and Spratly islands which are also claimed by Vietnam. China claims Scarborough islands which Philippines says belongs to its jurisdiction.
According to Law of the Sea treaty of UN, an inhabited territory can claim 200 km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into the sea, and if they are uninhabited, they can claim only 20 km of ‘territorial waters’.
China says it owns all the islands fully or partially in the South China Sea. That allows it to claim part of this sea until the doorsteps of Malaysia, some 2500kms away from Hong kong.
China has grown greedy over the years. Its increasing economic prowess has enabled it to bribe some nations into its submission, and make it more assertive beyond its conventional territories.
For those who advocate ‘string of pearls’ theory, here is a counter argument. It is actually China which is being surrounded by hostile nations - from Japan to Vietnam – covering Pacific to Indian Oceans.
If it do not learn to keep its neighbors in good humor, China’s rise as ‘superpower’ will only prove perilous in the long term.