Sanya Port
A fishing fleet returns to Sanya Port in the southernmost province of Hainan on July 29, 2012, concluding its voyage of casting nets in the South China Sea. The 30-boat fishing fleet left Sanya Port on July 12 and arrived at Yongshu Reef, Zhubi Reef and Meiji Reef of Nansha Islands. [Hou Jiansen/Xinhua]
Is the South China Sea issue the most important problem in the development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)? The ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting held in Phnom Penh last month failed to publish a joint communiqué and the shock waves triggered by the event continues to ferment.
Philippines points the finger at Cambodia

After the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, Cambodia was blamed by the Philippines and several ASEAN countries. Deputy Foreign Minister of the Philippines Brazil Rio issued an article, accusing Cambodia of hindering the publishing of the joint communiqué. Cambodian ambassador to the Philippines Hos Sereythonh made a response in an article, pointing out that the Philippines and Vietnam insisted on recording their disputes with China on the joint communiqué to kidnap the meeting.

The South China Sea issue is not the whole picture of relations between China and ASEAN

Singaporean Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said that the disputes of South China Sea between China and some ASEAN countries cannot define the relations between China and the whole ASEAN, the Singapore-based newspaper Straits Times said on Aug. 14. Shanmugam stressed that strengthening cooperation between China and ASEAN countries especially that of bilateral trade is in line with the interests of both China and ASEAN countries.

The Manila Standard Today published an article on Aug. 14, saying that the Philippines got into trouble due to the wrong diplomatic strategy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. First, China is the engine of economic growth in Asia. Second, China is the third largest trading partner of the Philippines. Third, China is the fourth largest source of tourists in the Philippines. In 2010, China had invested nearly 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in the Philippines, meanwhile providing 1.8 billion U.S. dollars of soft loan. China is the fourth largest provider of development assistance in the Philippines, next to Japan, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

The key is to strengthen the cooperation with China

Huang Jing, director with Institute of Asia and Globalization under the National University of Singapore, said that some ASEAN countries hope the United States to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific region but they are unwilling to take sides in both China and the United States. The ambivalence was resulted from the safety and economic framework in Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific security system dominated by the United States and its allies has not changed but the economic base to support the framework has no longer existed. China became the economic center in the region, as well as the largest trade partner of almost all the Asia-Pacific countries.

Some analysts pointed out that the priority of the ASEAN is to strengthen their economic and trade cooperation to ensure the realization of a united market in 2015. Therefore, it needs to deepen cooperation with China. It will not be in line with the fundamental interests of ASEAN if it only considers the interests of certain member states on the issue of the South China Sea and stands against China. 


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