Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Time to Reconstruct ASEAN's China Policy
CHINO Keiko  / Journalist

June 16, 2014
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has gone one step further in its response in the territorial dispute between Vietnam and China over the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands in Chinese and Hoàng Sa Archipelago in Vietnamese) in the South China Sea, triggered by China's drilling activities in the area. ASEAN issued an unprecedented emergency statement at its meeting of foreign ministers and adopted the "Naypyidaw Declaration" calling for a peaceful resolution of the issue in the summit meeting that followed, demonstrating their solidarity to the international community.

However, that was the most they could do. And instead of backing down, China has continued drilling as planned towards a fait accompli. In other words, it has shown no intentions of heeding either criticism from the international community or objections from Vietnam and ASEAN.

Moreover, China's blatant great-power mentality became even more apparent during the IISS Asia Security Summit, or the Shangri-La Dialogue, which took place recently in Singapore. Gone are the days when China repeated its "peaceful rise" slogan in an effort to appease international concerns.

The latest developments have created a pressing need for ASEAN to reconstruct its diplomatic policy in line with China's transformation.

China was invited to become a partial participant to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting as an observer in 1991, and its status was elevated to that of a fully participating Dialogue Partner Country in 1996. In retrospect, that was the prologue to a "rising China." In the 18 years since, China has made remarkable progress to become a major economic and military power in the world. ASEAN has also developed in its own right, but it is a far cry from what China has achieved, and the gap has significantly widened over the years.

It is a well-known fact that since its establishment, ASEAN has increased its presence by turning its status as a union of small countries into an advantage. To use its favorite expression, ASEAN sat in the "driver's seat" and carried a succession of countries outside the region - namely Japan, the United States, South Korea, China and Australia - on the back seat as it sped through the international arena. A typical example of such multilateral collaboration is the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which aims to peacefully resolve disputes through a dialogue on security issues.

The problem is that this dialogue approach has been conveniently used by China in the latest territorial dispute and has benefited China more than ASEAN. I am not urging ASEAN to discard this approach. However, I do want to emphasize the inadequacy of its current approach to dialogue, which only serves to supplement a conciliatory stance towards China.

To use a paradoxical expression, it is time for ASEAN to conduct a level-headed review of its very status as a union of small countries. Some of the member countries are strongly dependent on China, either attracted by its market or by the economic aid it offers, and there are countries that have no territorial disputes with China. There is a perception gap towards China among the ranks of ASEAN, and China makes its advance on the weakest link. Yet, the history of ASEAN has shown that reinforcing solidarity has been the best strategy for turning the disadvantage of being a small country into an advantage.

Even so, it is difficult to confront China head on. The winds billowing out of China have become almost too much to bear. While ASEAN is seeking economic union in 2015, the issue of regional security seems to be gaining greater significance.

ASEAN also needs a greater effort to encourage deeper involvement of its external dialogue partners. These partner countries should also split the responsibility of taking the driver's seat when the going gets rough, instead of leaving it up to ASEAN to do the driving. The historic visit to Asia by U.S. President Barack Obama will only be meaningful when accompanied by consistent, unwavering involvement by the United States. Japan must also step up its cooperation and collaboration with ASEAN in an effort to prevent the East China Sea into becoming the South China Sea of tomorrow.

The pressing issue facing ASEAN is to quickly formulate a legally binding code of conduct. Since China offers only superficial agreement to negotiations, making a broader call beyond the region to turn the development of such a code into an international agenda may also be an effective ploy. Opposition from China should be taken for granted in making such a move; the point is to launch a powerful appeal for legal compliance.

ASEAN will send a delegation to the G20 meeting in November to make an appeal on the South China Sea issue. It should make active use of such international forums. Another option is for Vietnam to follow the Philippines and take its case to the international courts of justice.

Finally, ASEAN should also approach China as part of its diplomatic efforts. The South China Sea may indeed become Chinese territory someday. But is becoming a major power surrounded by hostile neighbors a "Chinese dream" come true? I hope such a voice of self-examination gains strength among the Chinese people.

Keiko Chino is Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト  

2014年 6月 16日













(筆者は産経新聞 客員論説委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Time to Reconstruct ASEAN's China Policy