Regional Political Tensions: ASEAN Divided in South China Sea Case
After an international tribunal came to the conclusion earlier this week that China has no legal claims to most of the South China Sea, there exists a lack of unity among Southeast Asian nations as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to respond to the matter. Among ASEAN officials there was no agreement to issue a joint statement regarding the ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration as ASEAN member nations are split on the matter.
Last Tuesday (12/07) the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has no legal claims on most areas of the South China Sea. Through its nine-dash line China claims that over 80 percent of the sea is part of the nation's "historically traditional fishing grounds".
The South China Sea is a lucrative area as it contains ample oil, gas and fishery resources, while also facilitating some USD $5 trillion worth of trade each year (thus being one of the world's key seaborne trade routes). In recent history China has been gradually expanding in the South China Sea in terms of military operations and fishing activities. This has caused a series of incidents related to territorial disputes in the area between China and several of the 10-nation ASEAN group as well as Japan. The Philippines filed for an international arbitration case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration; a case it won earlier this week.
However, prior to the ruling, China's authorities had already expressed that they do not recognize the tribunal and therefore ignore any rulings. To deal with rising tensions and to maintain peace and stability in the area, China suggests an ASEAN-China dialogue for future negotiations.
While ASEAN member nations Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines have expressed criticism toward China's territorial claims over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, Laos and Cambodia prefer to side with their big neighbor. Laos holds ASEAN's chair in 2016. Without full concensus ASEAN does not speak out on matters, a clear sign that there exists disunity among the group regarding the South China Sea matter.
After Tuesday's ruling, Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry called on all involved nations to respect applicable international laws and refrain from actions that could increase tensions. One of the international laws that is referred to by the Foreign Affairs Ministry is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a law that does not recognize "historically traditional fishing grounds". Indonesia emphasized that its stance on the matter is based on its status as a "non-claimant" to the disputed area.
Do you agree with the tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines?
Voting possible: -
- Yes, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are wrong (86.3%)
- I don't know (8.2%)
- No, China's nine-dash line is correct (5.5%)
Total amount of votes: 73