By Elizabeth Marcelo
NEW DELHI – It would be no surprise if the Philippines and nine other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations clam up on the issue of the maritime dispute with China during the weeklong ASEAN Ministerial Meeting set to start tomorrow in Manila.
In the two-day Delhi Dialogue, a regional forum hosted by the Indian government last July 4 to 5, international policy experts from Southeast Asia admitted it would be “really hard” if not impossible for ASEAN member-countries to come up with a unified stand against China’s massive reclamation works in the South China Sea, a mineral and oil-rich territory being claimed almost in its entirety by China.
Nguyen Thai Yen Huong, vice president and senior research fellow of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, admitted that ASEAN member-countries, even the richest ones like Singapore and Brunei, depend heavily on China in terms of trade and economic support, thus it would be unwise to make any move that would potentially strain economic relations.
“We think that South China Sea is an issue that separates ASEAN... Because in the 21st century, economic cooperation becomes an item of concern among the ASEAN. Even we know that to some extent all the ASEAN countries deeply, I want to say, depend on China on trade relations,” Huong said.
China remains to be the largest trading partner of ASEAN since 2009.
In the Philippines, China has been the second largest trading partner with $17 billion in total trade in 2016, next to Japan.
Huong said the need to protect trade relations with China becomes more significant amid the US government’s recent announcement that it is withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, a trade deal with Asia pushed forward by former US president Barrack Obama.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, aside from China and the Philippines, also have overlapping claims over the SCS.
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Story Quote: "“China has become like a regional older brother to ASEAN countries,” he added."
PacificSentinel: So much for their so-called, and often stated, 'ASEAN centrality.'