Author: Zhang Xin
Posted on: Global Times, February 22nd, 2017
Discussions on a possible code of conduct framework on the South China Sea and a joint solution to cope with a new international political and economical environment brought by US President Donald Trump are expected to dominate the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Boracay, the Philippines which began on Tuesday.
The 10 foreign ministers will also tackle how to deepen ASEAN integration in a bid to further develop the group’s cooperation with China, Chinese analysts said.
“It’s hard to say if the meeting can hammer out a detailed and implementable South China Sea code of conduct, or even by the end of the year. But a framework based on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was agreed on by both China and ASEAN countries in 2002, is something we can expect,” Zhuang Guotu, head of the Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times.
The foreign ministers’ meeting is meant to overcome internal disagreements and reach a consensus on the South China Sea disputes among ASEAN member states, said experts.
“Regardless of whether a code of conduct on the South China Sea would be achieved, it won’t have much of an impact on the current situation in the South China Sea,” said Zhuang.
“A number of ministers expressed concern over recent developments and the escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said at a news conference after a meeting with his Southeast Asian counterparts, without mentioning what specific development had provoked concern, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Nimitz-class US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson began patrols in the South China Sea on Saturday, which triggered a new wave of tensions in the South China Sea. The Chinese foreign ministry warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty and security in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight.
ASEAN member states expect the Trump administration to unveil its policies within the next few months to provide a “more concrete and clearer picture,” especially regarding China, Yasay was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Trump administration is actually pushing for closer ties between China and ASEAN countries, experts said.
Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who showed strong support for Southeast Asian countries, Trump has yet to say or do anything that might promote the region’s confidence in the US, said Zhang Mingliang, a professor at the Southeast Asian Institute of Jinan University.
“Trump hasn’t said if he cares about the area since he took office in January. Instead, the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership announced on the first day of his presidency has hurt several Southeast Asian countries that chose to take part in the partnership, including Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore,” Zhang told the Global Times.
Trump has urged Japan and South Korea to pay more to maintain US military bases in Northeast Asia. He also called for more NATO spending by European countries.
It’s clear that he does not want to be responsible for the Asia-Pacific region’s security issues, Zhuang noted, adding that his anti-globalization and protectionist inclination is not in ASEAN’s interests.
“Trump’s opposition to globalization and free trade inflicts heavy damage on ASEAN countries. Under such circumstances, many Southeast Asian countries have to enhance economic cooperation with China,” said Zhuang.
“ASEAN countries expect to ride on the express train of China’s economy development, such as seeking cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, hosted this year by the Philippines, considered to have developed moderate and sound policies toward China, is expected to generate an outcome that both China and the Southeast Asian country expect. This is also good for regional peace and stability, said Zhang.