The south china sea situation is one that surely occupies the national security discussions of many ASEAN member states for a number of years.
In the aftermath of the International Tribunal decision affirming our countrys sovereign rights over the disputed seas in June 2016, we recall how any discussion on the matter was effectively muted during multilateral discussions among ASEAN member states.
ASEAN member states are careful not to risk lending too much focus on their disputed waters and islands, as this may be a prelude to actual conflict or a diminution of their trade ties with the worlds second largest economy, without which theirnown economies would not have grown as they have. They know that as the biggest trading partner, they have much to lose in the event of conflict.
In the Philippines we have seen how our economy was affected by trade sanctions and tourist bans when we first protested in 2012. How many banana growers lost money shipping to China then? Remember? I am sure other ASEAN states have taken note of this.
Notice how Indonesia prefers to focus on fishing rather than military incursions. Realize how, despite frequent verbal tussles, Vietnam still accepted 3 million Chinese tourists and Malaysia renegotiated Chinese loans- without rejecting them. All despite the presence of artificial islands in waters they also claim.
ASEAN member states are not foolish to risk even a “cold war” against China. This is because any attempt to build an alliance against China may not only increase tensions and clip trade, but lead to a watering down of their own individual claims in the disputed waters which are claims against each other.
Remember that each claimant state has positions that oppose, not affirm our own interests. Provoking conflict may lead to a free for all situation where each country will occupy islands and islets, further complicating the situation.
Sources within the ASEAN diplomatic community are watching the Philippines for a number of reasons.
This is because being the only mutual defense treaty partner in southeast asia, any conflict will draw the United States to war with China- an outcome all ASEAN states, and even Japan will not want.
Should we stop fanning the flames of conflict and xenophobia? Yes. it is in everyone’s interest that we create a situation where a shared harmony among neighbors is achieved.
How that can be done is for another column.