At a joint press conference with U.S. secretary of state John Kerry in Washington, D.C., in February, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi assured his audience that, compared with other parts of the world, the South China Sea was stable. To be sure, the Spratly Islands are not Syria. The geopolitical stakes, however, are arguably much higher than in the Middle East, and since the beginning of 2016, events have suggested that the South China Sea is becoming more and more tumultuous by the week. In March, for instance, the Philippines alleged that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and… Read More »ASEAN Initiatives Face Strong Headwinds
Code of Conduct
The incursion on March 19–20, 2016, by two armed China Coast Guard ships into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 4.34 kilometers off the Natuna Islands, sparked tensions on a new front in the South China Sea. The incident has again raised the question of where Indonesia stands on the disputes—both as a potential party and as a leader within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The incident began when a patrol boat from the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) seized a 300-metric-ton Chinese fishing boat, the Kway Fey 10078, and arrested its eight crew members for… Read More »Whither the Honest Broker? Indonesia and the South China Sea
Growing tensions over competing South China Sea claims, coupled with China’s increasing economic influence, are aggravating long-standing cleavages within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Intra-ASEAN differences are evident in the clear difficulty the grouping’s members have faced when trying to devise joint positions regarding the South China Sea, including during major meetings at Yunnan and Vientiane in June and July 2016. Unless its members reconfigure the way ASEAN operates, the organization risks irrelevance. Such reforms may include everything from bolstering the organization’s capacity for internal coordination to reworking decision-making processes or accepting the formation of more, and even… Read More »ASEAN and the Risks of Business as Usual
The arbitral tribunal award of July 12 has delivered major benefits to the Philippines. Of fifteen claims submitted to the tribunal, fourteen were affirmed in full while only one was partially rejected. The judgment provides favorable guidance on some important points: It restores international justice in the interpretation and application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The award finds that claims of historic rights to natural resources cannot displace the legal status of maritime institutions created by UNCLOS, such as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) or continental shelves. Unilateral political actions cannot supplant agreements approved… Read More »How to Make China Comply with the Tribunal Award
Until 2013, the conflict in the South China Sea had been managed mainly through implementation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC). The DoC requires the parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability in this area. At the 9th ASEAN-China Joint Working Group meeting in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, in September 2013, both sides agreed to give new impetus to the negotiation of a code of conduct (CoC) for the South China Sea. Since then, the massive land reclamation… Read More »A Code of Conduct for the South China Sea: Effective Tool or Temporary Solution?
In Manila on August 6, 2017, the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China endorsed a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea (CoC). The framework had earlier been approved by senior officials from ASEAN and China at a meeting in Guiyang, China, on May 19. Statements by the two sides were broadly welcoming of the framework. In their joint communiqué—which was delayed for nearly 24 hours due to differences between some member states on how the South China Sea dispute should be characterized—the ASEAN foreign ministers said they were “encouraged”… Read More »Anatomy of the Code of Conduct Framework for the South China Sea