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ASEAN’s Centrality in The South China Sea Dispute:

The Role of ASEAN Way

Submitted by

Alleya Hanifa Thariane

2017840106

International Conflict and Cooperation Spring 2017 Yonsei University Prof. Choi Ajin

1.

Chapter 1

1.1. Background

South East Asia is known to possess significant geopolitics and geo-economics values. The region links the two most important oceans—the Indian and the Pacific, making it the “geopolitical epicenter of our time”. 1 Locating in the tropics, the region produced resources that were unique to the region such as cloves, nutmeg, and mace. This quality of the region made it vulnerable to the meddling of foreign powers. Historically, nations in the region had experienced colonization by various European nations, except for Thailand. After the end of World War II, South East Asian states were not completely free from international big power politics. During the Cold War, the world witnessed Vietnam War which lasted for almost two decades as a result of two big powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, fought for influence in the region. In addition to external-caused conflicts, the region is also prone to interstate and intrastate conflicts. In the 1960s, Indonesia and Malaysia were involved in an armed conflict known as Konfrontasi. Cambodia and Vietnam were also involved in a two-decade war. Internally, the South East Asian nations were struggling with rebellions and religious-ethnic conflicts. Considering their vulnerability to conflict and potentials at the same time, the countries in South East Asia agreed to establish a regional institutions. In 1961, Association of South East Asia (ASA) was formed by Malaya, Thailand, and the Philippines. Yet, ASA failed to thrive due its inability to obtain endorsement by other countries in the region and the deteriorating relationship between Malaya and the Philippines over the formation of the Federation of Malaya in 1963. 2 ASA then proceeded by MAPHILINDO (Malaya- Philippines-Indonesia), SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organizations), and ASPAC (Asia and Pacific Council). 3 All were short-lived organizations. After series of failures to form a regional organization, foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand held consultative meetings which resulted Joint Declaration. The declaration was the start of the regional institution that we know today. The establishment of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) in 1967 was an important milestone in the history of South East Asia. As a region consisted of newly-independent countries, ASEAN was an important arena for the members to interact and cooperate with each other. ASEAN was formed to speed-up economic growth, nurturing cooperation in various aspects, and promoting peace and regional stability. 4 Recently, the region is shaken up by South China Sea dispute. South China Sea is one of the most important seas in the world. Robert Kaplan in his Foreign Policy article mentioned that it is the "throat of global sea routes", as it connects South East Asia with the Western Pacific. 5 It is also known that the South China Sea hosts huge amount of natural resources, especially oil. Then it was not a surprise when China's move to claim most of the sea as its territory was protested by South East Asian countries are Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. As illustrated by below map, four of ASEAN members are involved in the dispute as claimant states. Yet, until now, ASEAN has been unable to create a stance that unites the

  • 1 Ernest Z. Bower, et al, “South East Asia’s Geopolitical Centrality,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (2015): 18, accessed on 10 May 2017, https://spfusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/150609_Bower_South EastAsiaCentrality_Web.pdf.

  • 2 “Formation of ASEAN,” History SG, accessed on 10 May 2017,

http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/65bc5474-afba-4fcc-afc1-345457fa41a9.

  • 3 Sekretariat ASEAN, ASEAN Selayang Pandang (Jakarta: Sekretariat ASEAN, 2010, 2.

  • 4 Ibid., 3.

  • 5 “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict,” Robert D. Kaplan, Foreign Policy, accessed on 10 May 2017,

http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/08/15/the-south-china-sea-is-the-future-of-conflict.

voice of its members. As a result, the South China Sea dispute has caused insecurity in the South East Asia region.

voice of its members. As a result, the South China Sea dispute has caused insecurity in

In recent years, due to aggressive moves by China, ASEAN claimant states in the dispute have increased their defense budget. Responding to Chinese aggression done in the disputed areas near James Shoal, Malaysia has increased its defense budget by 10 percent in October 2014. Manila has also prepared to spend $885 million to upgrade its military and reasserting its commitment to military cooperation with the United States. Vietnam is noticed to have the most significant defense budget increase. Vietnam increased its defense spending to 113 percent in the 2004-2013 period. In 2013 alone, Vietnam spent $3.4 billion to upgrade its military. Vietnam has also been actively engaged in strategic arms trade with India, Russia, and the U.S. since 2014. 6 The arm race that is happening in South East Asia could turn into security dilemma, and eventually creating instability in the region. ASEAN effort to deal with the problem could be tracked back to the 1990s. But still, ASEAN has not proven its capability to resolve the issue. I argue that ASEAN’s inability to show significant action regarding the South China Sea is constrained by its ASEAN Way of handling issues. Based on neoliberal institutionalist argument, formation of institution is a way to create peace and maintaining stability in the international or regional level. Yet, ASEAN has not succeeded to do so in South East Asia.

1.2. Research Question

What makes ASEAN has yet to respond to South China Sea issue effectively?

1.3. Argument

ASEAN Way hinders the organization to act effectively towards the South China Sea issue.

6 Linh Tong, "The ASEAN Crisis, Part 1: Why the South China Sea Is a Critical Test," The Diplomat, December 24, 2016, , accessed May 10, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2016/12/the-asean-crisis-part-1-why-the-south-china-sea- is-a-critical-test/.

1.4. Framework

To answer the research question, frameworks from liberalism realm, especially neoliberal institutionalism, will be used. Among three primary school of thoughts in International Relations (realism, liberalism, and constructivism), liberalism sees non-state actors such as institutions in a positive light. Institutions is one of the major topics of liberalism research, as liberalism believes institutions can reduce the negative effect of anarchy and nurture international cooperation. Neoliberal institutionalism have some similar basic assumptions with neorealism. It regards states as rational actors and agrees that international system is anarchic. 7 Yet unlike neorealism which regards anarchy as barrier to cooperation, it argues that establishment of institution could create peace as institutions could promote cooperation and minimize adverse effects of international anarchy. A prominent neoliberal institutionalism scholar, Robert O. Keohane, defines institution as “persistent and connected sets of rules (formal and informal) that prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity, and shape expectations.” 8 Keohane stated that international institutions have some benefits which could avert states from only pushing forward their interests and comply to rules even in an anarchic international system. International institutions could reduce uncertainty. In an anarchic international system, institutions make states more predictable as they are bound by norms and rules. Also, international institutions could reduce conflict potentials that may have emerged due to distrust between states. 9 These three benefits, according to Shaun Narine, enable states to cooperate despite the possibility of incompliance done by other parties. 10 Keohane, through his several writings, also mentioned certain conditions that determine effectiveness of an international institution. To function effectively, a strong authoritative power or influence is needed in an institution to ensure its members’ compliance. 11 Members composition of an institution would also affect its effectiveness. 12 Cooperation is more effortless to be built within institution with members whose social and political background are similar.

  • 7 Shaun Narine, “Institutional Theory and Southeast Asia: The Case of ASEAN”, in World Affairs, Vol. 161, No. 1, 1998, pg. 37.

  • 8 Robert O. Keohane, “International Institutions: Two Approaches”, in International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, 1988, 383.

  • 9 Robert O. Keohane, “International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?”, in Power and Governances in Partially Globalized World (London: Routledge, 2002), 30

    • 10 Narine, ibid.

    • 11 Keohane, “International Institutions: Two Approaches”, 387.

    • 12 Keohane, “International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?”, 34.

2.

Chapter 2

2.1. About ASEAN

Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) was established on August 1967 by five founding nations Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand after the signing of Bangkok Declaration. The purpose of its establishment is to speed-up economic growth, nurturing cooperation in various aspects, and promoting peace and regional stability. ASEAN was also founded as an effort to avoid intrastate and interstate conflicts, and avoid foreign power’s meddling in the region. Conceived during the Cold War, strategic purpose of ASEAN is to Today, ASEAN is composed of ten members. After its establishment in 1967, other states in the region gradually became member of ASEAN. Brunei officially became ASEAN’s sixth member in 1984, followed by Vietnam in 1997. In 1995, during 28 th ASEAN High Ministerial Meeting in Brunei, Lao PDR and Myanmar were officially accepted as the eighth and ninth member of ASEAN. Finally, in 1999 Cambodia became the tenth member of ASEAN.

2. Chapter 2 2.1. About ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) was established on

ASEAN Member States

One word that would perfectly describe ASEAN member composition is diversity. South East Asia is a very diverse region in terms of social, economic, and political background. The region is home to 628.9 million people living in area of 4.5 million square kilometer. 13 All member countries are affected by the region’s rich history, diverse customs and traditions, religious beliefs, economic development, and political systems. Long before colonization arrived in South East Asia, the region was made out of kingdoms. They interacted, trade, went into war and eventually influenced each other. The political, economic, and cultural ties among the South East Asian people then were cut by colonialism. 14 After the nations in South East Asia gained their independence, they took different paths in the transition from colonialism to independent nationhood. Quoting the 10 th Secretary General of ASEAN, Rodolfo C. Severino, the

13 The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Statistical Leaflet 2016, accessed on 11 May 2017,

http://asean.org/storage/2012/05/ASEAN_Stats_Leaflet2016_web.pdf

14 Rodolfo C. Severino, “Diversity and Convergence in Southeast Asia” (Keynote address, Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations, Beijing 28 August 2000), http://asean.org/?static_post=diversity-and-convergence-in-

southeast-asia-28-august-2000.

historical relationship during colonialism era, the personal experience and ideological leanings of the new ruling elite, and the economic and political circumstances in which the new nations found themselves influenced their choice of paths. 15 That way, today we still could see the differences in political system, ideological preference, and allies of each nations. While looking at the longest-established regional organization in the world, European Union, we could tell through its mechanism that the organization is very highly institutionalized. Yet, if we compare ASEAN and EU, we will see that ASEAN is less institutionalized, even low institutionalized. This is a result of ASEAN’s main principles which put forward its members’ sovereignty. With their history of colonialization, the resilient sense of independence has become underlying guide of the members’ foreign policy moves. Compared to the leading regional institution European Union (EU) which is very high-institutionalized, ASEAN is a low-institutionalized organization which put forward members’ sovereignty. It is demonstrated through the main principles of ASEAN: non-intervention, peaceful conflict resolutions, and consensus- based decision making. Using the principles to unite its diverse, heterogenous members, ASEAN’s ability to function well in the region is often being doubted. In 1976, ASEAN founding states agreed on the Treaty of Amity (TAC) which contains the fundamental principles which ASEAN members states refer in conducting their relations with one another. The principles are: respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, non-interference in internal affairs of one another, settlement of disputes by peaceful means, and renunciation of threat or use of force, and effective cooperation. 16 ASEAN also adopts decision making based on consultation and consensus, which means every decision taken by ASEAN should be voted by each member state. The fundamental principles and the consensus-based decision making are ASEAN’s distinctive way of governing itself. This unique mechanism is what is known as ASEAN Way. According to some scholars such as Shaun Narine, ASEAN Way is ASEAN’s key of success because it minimize tension between member states. 17 The principle also ensures equality among members and prevents the discrimination of any member in major decisions. But in the same time, ASEAN Way also hinder ASEAN from resolving issues that need to be solved. ASEAN Way become way to “bypass” problems and “sweep them under the rug.” It is been noticed that the ASEAN Way hinder ASEAN from acting effectively on certain security issues.

2.2. South China Sea Dispute

South China Sea is an area stretching from Strait of Malacca and Singapore in the southwest to the Strait of Taiwan in the northeast. The area is known for its importance as one of the most important global trade flow, as it connects South East Asia with the Western Pacific. Inside the area are several hundred small islands, rocks, and reefs with the majority located in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains. 18 Aside from the fact that trillion of dollars go through this area, South China Sea is also home to significant amount of hydrocarbons and natural gas. With the rising of Asian economy and consequently its demand of energy, the territorial dispute in South China Sea is critical and not to be resolved any time soon. The first claim made in the South China Sea was by China in 1951. The claim is based by an official map of Republic of China made by the Kuomintang government in 1947 which featured “nine-dashed line”. China claim more than 60 per cent of the area and has been occupying several islands. China also known

15

Ibid.

16

“Overview,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, accessed on 11 May 2017, http://asean.org/asean/about- asean/overview/.

17

18

South China Sea,” U.S. Energy Information Association, accessed on 11 May 2017, https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/regions-topics.cfm?RegionTopicID=SCS.

for doing land reclamation and militarizing the newly-made islands. In 2014, China released the Chinese Government’s ‘Position Paper on a Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration’ which defends its activities in the South China Sea with historical claim. 19 Two contested territories in the area are Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands. The island chains are largely uninhabited islands which are said to have significant amount of natural resources around them. Paracel Islands is claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. They also claim Spratly Islands in whole. Meanwhile Malaysia and the Philippines respectively claim 3 and 8 islands of the Spratly Islands. 20

Country

South China Sea

Spratly Islands

Paracel Islands

Gulf of Thailand

Brunei

UNCLOS

No formal claim

No

-

Cambodia

-

-

-

UNCLOS

China

All

All

All

-

Indonesia

UNCLOS

No

No

-

Malaysia

UNCLOS

3

islands

No

UNCLOS

Philippines

Significant

8

islands

No

-

portions

 

Taiwan

All

All

All

-

Thailand

-

-

-

UNCLOS

Vietnam

All

All

All

UNCLOS

The dispute in South China Sea has caused instability in the area. As mentioned, China has been militarizing the reclaimed islands. In February 2016, China deployed advanced surface-to-air missiles on

one of the island in the Paracels. In response, the US persistently operating “freedom of navigation” patrol

and joint military patrols with the Philippines. 21 Meanwhile, ASEAN countries involved also reacted by increasing their defense budget. Responding to Chinese aggression done in the disputed areas near James Shoal, Malaysia has increased its defense budget by 10 percent in October 2014. Manila has also prepared to spend $885 million to upgrade its military and reasserting its commitment to military cooperation with the United States. Vietnam is noticed to have the most significant defense budget increase. Vietnam increased its defense spending to 113 percent in the 2004-2013 period. In 2013 alone, Vietnam spent $3.4 billion to upgrade its military. Vietnam has also been actively engaged in strategic arms trade with India, Russia, and the U.S. since 2014. 22 With the end of the dispute is nowhere to be seen, intensifying situation in the South China Sea could be seen as threat to security of ASEAN. The militarization in the South East Asia caused by increasing tension in South China Sea could lead to security dilemma among ASEAN countries. It is also worth to remember that the claimant countries had went to armed conflict with each other in the past, thus security dilemma would only worsen the situation.

  • 19 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Position Paper of the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 7 December 2014, accessed on 11 May 2017, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1217147.shtml.

  • 20 U.S. Energy Information Association, ibid.

  • 21 "Japan supports but won't join US 'freedom of navigation' patrols in South China Sea," RT International, accessed May 15, 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/376410-japan-us-patrols-south-china/.

  • 22 Linh Tong, “The ASEAN Crisis,” ibid.

2.3. ASEAN’s Disunity towards the Issue As a regional organization, ASEAN has made efforts to deal with the issue. Yet, as mentioned, no agreement is concluded among the members as not all states are involved in the dispute. ASEAN claimant states are the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei. The rests of the member are not involved at all (Cambodia, Laos, Singapore) or only pushes forward claim towards its EEZ (Indonesia). This alone has important consequences to the nonexistent consensus of the members regarding South China Sea. In addition to that, each member’s alliance preference also affect ASEAN’s inability to produce consensus. China-aligned ASEAN members such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia are opposed or have little interests in becoming involved in anything that would be detrimental to their interests in relations to China. At the 45 th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 2012, ASEAN’s foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique as Cambodia rejected mentioning to Scarborough Shoal and EEZ. 23 During the ASEAN 30 th Summit in April 2017, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who acts as the sitting chairman of ASEAN stated any discussion about the China militarization in the South China Sea was useless. Discussion of the issue would only bring “trouble” with China. 24 Yet, internally, the Philippines is also divided on the issue. Philippines Foreign Ministry and security establishment are eager to see the arbitration award and UNCLOS serving as the legal basis for negotiation between ASEAN and China. 25 Singapore urged ASEAN to continue the talk to produce a Code of Conduct

on South China Sea. 26 Indonesia is also in favor to produce a Code of Conduct and often positions itself as a mediator along with Singapore. ASEAN’s effort to resolve the issue started internally. In 1992, ASEAN members created Declaration on the South China Sea, which is not a legally-binding agreement. It succeeded to ameliorate the tension between ASEAN states. However, when having to deal with third-party such as China, ASEAN has yet to success at conflict resolution. During the 29 th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 1999, ASEAN members called for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. In 2002, Declaration of Conduct was signed by ASEAN and China. The Declaration reaffirmed a commitment to international law and to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. 27 It was hoped to be transformed into a more binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. The framework for Code of Conduct finally came into being in 2017. Yet if we look into the negotiations in the past, China has been dragging its feet towards reaching a consensus with its South East Asian neighbors. It could be seen from the time needed for both parties to finally agreed on a framework, 20

years. Some ASEAN diplomats believed that it is one of China’s ploys of buying time as it building and

  • 23 China Reveals Its Hand on ASEAN in Phnom Penh,Center for Strategic & International Studies, accessed 11 May 2017, https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-reveals-its-hand-asean-phnom-penh.

  • 24 Shannon Tiezzi, "Why China Isn't Interested in a South China Sea Code of Conduct," The Diplomat, February 26, 2014, accessed May 10, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2014/02/why-china-isnt-interested-in-a-south-china-sea- code-of-conduct/.

  • 25 Richard Javad Heydarian, "Asean-China Code of Conduct: Never-ending negotiations," The Straits Times, March 08, 2017, accessed May 10, 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/asean-china-code-of-conduct-never- ending-negotiations.

  • 26 Singapore Minister's Comments In Parliament On ASEAN And South China Sea,” Embassy of the Republic of Singapore Pnom Penh, accessed 15 May 2017, https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/phnom_penh/press_statements_speeches/embassy_new

s_press_releases/2012/201208/Press_13082012.html/

  • 27 Manuel Mogato and Martin Petty, "Push for South China Sea code stirs ASEAN suspicions about Beijing's endgame," Reuters, April 27, 2017, accessed May 10, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-

asean-analysis-idUSKBN17T0A5.

militarizing its artificial islands. 28 ASEAN states are still unsure of China’s good intention towards the Code of Conduct.

2.4. Is ASEAN Way Worth Keeping?

As explained in the previous subchapter, ASEAN Way is one of the main factor of ASEAN’s incapability to

resolve the South China Sea dispute effectively. The mechanism has blocked ASEAN from giving timely response to the dispute. Asymmetric characteristic of the dispute is also a test for ASEAN, which according to liberal ideas, could be used by weaker states such as those in South East Asia to collect their power

and increase their leverage. Yet, due to ASEAN’s block in dealing with the issue, the member states are

starting to resort to unilateral path. In other fields of cooperation, such as economics and socio-cultural, ASEAN Way which includes consensus-based mechanism has been working very well. Yet, in dealing with security issues, it seems that this mechanism should be reconsidered. As demonstrated in the South China Sea case, ASEAN Way has slowing down ASEAN from keeping its foundation purposes, that is to maintain and foster regional stability and security of South East Asia. Shaun Narine mentioned that ASEAN Way is ASEAN’S secret key of success. Yet, Narine also states that ASEAN Way is an ineffective tool to resolve dispute and unite different views between ASEAN member states. This is because ASEAN Way is used to “bypass” problems. 29 Dominik Heller inserts that by bypassing, ASEAN has not been able to develop an adequate conflict management. 30 This is what happening in ASEAN’s progress of dealing with South China Sea issue. Beyond all the pro and contras of ASEAN Way, is ASEAN’s Way worth keeping? I argue that ASEAN Way is worth keeping, but it will need readjustments. As mentioned, ASEAN Way is the foundation of ASEAN, the reason that the member states assembled together in a regional organization. Yet, as time goes by and the organization faces more complicated problems, ASEAN should adapt to changes. When handling critical security issues like the South China Sea dispute, ASEAN should develop a more decisive and effective approach. Thus, I recommend ASEAN to develop a whole new mechanism in dealing with security issues. The new mechanism may not be accommodating to all members as the ASEAN Way does. Each member may not have veto right regarding what is at stake. Based on liberal perspectives, an effective institution needs a strong authoritative power or influence. ASEAN needs to have a strong figure or a whole separate authoritative body such as Court of Justice of the European Union. In ASEAN, the absence of such authoritative body which requires high-degree compromise of sovereignty roots in the member states’ history of colonialism. Hence, to make it possible, ASEAN will need to open themselves and integrate further like the UE did. If EU-style of integration is not possible, then an ad hoc authoritative body whose purpose solely to resolve the South China Sea dispute could be an alternative option.

3. Conclusion

South China Sea is the most critical conflict of interest currently happening in South East Asia. This dispute is a test of relevance to the only regional institutions in the area, ASEAN. One of ASEAN foundation purposes is to promote peace and regional stability. Yet, until now, ASEAN has been unable to create a

  • 28 Ibid.

  • 29 Shaun Narine, “ASEAN and the ARF: The Limits of the “ASEAN Way””, in Asian Survey, Vol. 37, No. 10, 1997, pg.

962.

  • 30 Dominik Heller, “The Relevance of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific”, in Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol 27, No. 1 (April 2005), 138.

stance that unites the voice of its members. As a result, the South China Sea dispute has caused insecurity in the South East Asia region. ASEAN’s inability to a unified stance roots in its nature of handling issues, ASEAN Way. ASEAN Way is ASEAN’s unique mechanism to govern itself and for members to conduct relations with one another. The most important elements of ASEAN Way are ASEAN’s fundamental principle and consensus- based mechanism. The ASEAN Way is told by some ASEAN experts to have decrease the organization’s capability to resolve security issues in the area, including the South China Sea. That is demonstrated through various instances in where ASEAN member states differ in their stances towards the advances in the dispute. The different stances slow down ASEAN, making the regional is more vulnerable as ASEAN failed to response effectively about the issue. Despite pro and contra about it, ASEAN Way is still an important element of ASEAN. However, it will need readjustments as ASEAN faces more complicated and intricate issues today than during the time of its foundation. Two of the solutions is to develop a whole new mechanism in dealing with security issues or to form an independent, ad-hoc authoritative body to deal exclusively with the South China Sea issue.

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