Background Briefing:South China Sea: What Can theASEAN Regional ForumContribute to a Solution?Carlyle A. ThayerJuly 9, 2012
[client name deleted]The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is meeting in Cambodia this week. The South ChinaSea is a hot topic, especially between Philippines-China, and also Vietnam-China.How can the ARF contribute to a settlement of the South China Sea disputes? Whatroles can ASEAN and Cambodia, as ASEAN Chair, play?ANSWER: The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a security dialogue forum. When itwas set up it was envisaged that it would go through three phases of development:confidence-building measures, preventive diplomacy
and “elaboration to approachesto conflict.” When it became too difficult to tell what was the difference between a
confidence building measure and preventive diplomacy, the ARF agreed these couldgo in tandem. The ARF is still at the confidence building measures stage.The ARF makes no real decisions. Nothing the ARF decides is compulsory it is left upto each member to respond how they see fit.
It is up to the ASEAN Chair to issue a Chairman’s Summary after the ARF has
concluded to indicate what issues were raised. If matters are particularlycontroversial or if there is a lack of consensus it is up to the discretion of the Chairhow to handle these issues. Cambodia, as ASEAN Chair, is likely to downplay anydisagreement and paper over differences in the
Chair’s statement unless other
ASEAN members bring pressure to bear.The ARF operates on the basis of consensus. Even though China does not want theEast Sea to be discussed in a multilateral forum, it cannot prevent other foreignministers from raising this issue. No doubt the ARF will reach some generalconsensus that parties to the disputes in the South China Sea should exerciserestraint and not use force or the threat of force to resolve their differences oversovereignty. All parties will be urged to use international law, and the UNConvention on Law of the Sea to settle their disputes. The ARF is also likely tosupport the negotiations for a Code of Conduct (COC). There will nothing new tocome out of this meeting.
ASEAN Senior Officials has reached agreement on the key issues to be included in the draftCode of Conduct (COC). The ASEAN Foreign Ministers will meet today and review thisdocument. They can approve it or revise it. ASEAN and China has already agreed to begintheir negotiations on the final COC this week in Phnom Penh.
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