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ABN # 65 648 097 123
Background Briefing: ASEAN Engaging China on the South China Sea Carlyle A. Thayer July 14, 2011
[client name deleted] 1. What do you think is the best way for ASEAN to engage China and resolve overlapping claims in the South China Sea? ANSWER: ASEAN is already engaging China through the Joint Working Group to Implement the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). This group is working to adopt guidelines to implement the DOC. The sticking point is whether specific mention should be given in the guidelines to ASEAN meeting as a group before meeting with China. ASEAN needs to add high‐level pressure on China to move the Working Group along. But the guidelines only concern confidence building and other cooperative measures. The best way to engage China on resolving overlapping claims is at the ASEAN Plus 1 meeting. High‐level leaders need to press China to set up a group to senior officials to discuss how to apply international law, including the UN convention on Law of the Sea, to the South China Sea dispute. In other words ASEAN must work cooperatively with China to find a legal way to resolve this issue. 2. Manila is suggesting to bring the issue before international arbitration, what do you of think of this initiative considering that China is lukewarm to the proposal? Manila and Vietnam had found a common ground to internationalize the territorial dispute, would this help resolve the problem? ANSWER: This is a good diplomatic ploy and will add political pressure on China to bring its claims into line with international law. But arbitration requires the consent of both parties and China will not take the risk. It has much to loose to domestic nationalists if its claims are not upheld in their entirely. 3. What are the challenges for the Philippines to convince/persuade China to agree to resolve the dispute based on a rules‐based mechanism? ANSWER: The Philippines must convey to China that this issue won’t go away. China will bluster and bully and try to intimidate the Philippines. The Philippines needs to convince China that the dispute over the South China Sea will not affect bilateral relations but that the Philippines is resolved to settle the matter on the basis of international law including UNCLOS.
2 The Philippines also needs to work with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to forge a united front on approaches to China. This core groups of four needs to get consensus within ASEAN about how to approach China. At the moment the most promising approach is the 4+6+1 approach involving the four claimant states, the six ASEAN non‐claimant states under Indonesian leadership as ASEAN Chair, and China. 4. What role do you see for U.S. in the dispute ‐ is Washington an instigator or a peaceful facilitator? ANSWER: The United States was never and is not the instigator of current tensions over the South China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s intervention at last year’s ARF meeting was in response to approaches by individual ASEAN members. The U.S. informed ASEAN states in advance and asked for support. Eleven of the ARF’s 27 members raised their concerns. China has tried to deflect attention from its assertive behavior by putting the blame on the U.S. Shortly after Secretary Clinton made her remarks, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell clarified that what the ASEAN claimant states want “is for the United States to support a process. There’s not a desire for a facilitator, to be perfectly honest.” The United States supporta a collaborative diplomatic mechanism in order to support those in ASEAN who do not want to deal with China solely on a bilateral basis. In order for the U.S. to be effective it must play a low key role in support of ASEAN and led support in response to requests by individual states.