At the ASEAN Summit on Monday (November 19), the fault lines of unity in east Asia lay bare as Philippines publicly disagreed with Cambodia over discussing the vexing territorial claims in South China Sea by China that overlap those of several Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan.
Whereas, Japan and other south East Asian countries which are party to dispute want to discuss the issue, China sought to ensure that its claims in the South China Sea were not deliberated upon internationally.
In a statement Cambodia which heads the 10-member ASEAN said that Southeast Asian leaders “had decided that they will not internationalise the South China Sea from now on.” However, President Benigno Aquino quickly disputed the Cambodian statement and said no such agreement had been reached.
New York Times reported that it was the second time in four months that China has influenced Cambodia – a beneficiary of Chinese development and military aid – to put forward its case at the ASEAN forum. Earlier in July (2012), ASEAN failed to issue a communiqué at the end of its conference of foreign ministers after Cambodia refused to allow any mention of the South China Sea.
Meanwhile Japan warned that a row over the South China Sea could directly influence “peace and stability” in Asia.
No one can dispute China’s overwhelming influence in the region. But what is of concern for other regional powers like Japan, Philippines and India is that China in the recent years has been flexing its military power to overbearing proportions.
China’s strategy would be to create a sphere of influence in the region pretty much like the influence that the US has had over the Americas. Such a strategy would require China to ensure that its authority in the region is unquestioned and more importantly to ensure that it keep Western power out of the region. China has been seeking to do this through a range of strategic and military collaborations both on its western and eastern flank. Thus any effort by regional powers to internationalize the territorial claims by China could lead to countries grouping up against Chinese hegemony. This could mean possible involvement of the US and China realises only too well that the US is the only country which has the capacity to damage it militarily.