ASEAN, partners shine light on PRC claims in South China Sea

ASEAN, partners shine light on PRC claims in South China Sea

Tom Abke

Beijing’s unlawful claims to territory in the South China Sea will headline a September 2020 meeting of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The conference also will include senior officials from Australia, the European Union, Japan, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the United States and 12 other countries with interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

The ASEAN Regional Forum meeting will be hosted by Vietnam, which decided to swap a virtual conference scheduled for July 31, 2020, for an in-person meeting because it has been affected by the PRC’s unlawful claims to resources in the South China Sea, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel “rammed and looted a Vietnamese fishing boat operating in the Paracel Islands” in June 2020, Nguyen Khac Giang, senior research fellow at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research, Vietnam National University, wrote in an August 8, 2020, essay for Australia’s East Asia Forum.

Beijing also has pressured Hanoi into abandoning offshore oil and gas exploration projects in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but the fishing boat incident was the first time Chinese vessels attempted to enforce a unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea, Nguyen wrote.

Chinese encroachment in their EEZs prompted Indonesia and Malaysia to submit complaints to the United Nations, analyst Lee YingHui wrote in an East Asia Forum essay published July 24, 2020.

“A focus on a rules-based maritime order can serve as a unifying factor for Southeast Asian countries,” Lee wrote. “ASEAN needs to collectively better communicate to China the importance of maintaining a rules-based order in the South China Sea.”

The September conference could present ASEAN states with such an opportunity. They will be bolstered by the presence of partners such as the U.S., which denounced the PRC’s pursuit of resources in the South China Sea as illegal in a July 13, 2020, statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, far left, attends a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok, Thailand.)

Beijing could find itself facing a body of officials fed up with what Nguyen characterized as its attempts to “advance its positions aggressively in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and the Himalayan border.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.

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