ASEAN regional experts on the South China Sea ruling

In the lead-up to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China, Asialink brought together experts from across Southeast Asia, seeking their views regarding the likely implications of the decision.

These experts include highly respected policymakers, former senior ASEAN officials and academics from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in the Nanyang Technological University, the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, the Institute of China Studies in the University of Malaya, the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) Thailand, and the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) in the Philippines.

There is widespread interest in this court decision and impending reactions of the various nations involved - including China, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. This ruling marks the first time an international tribunal has weighed in on the issue, and the outcomes could set precedents for the management of ongoing political tension.

These ASEAN perspectives may be challenging for Australians and other outsiders who tend to prefer legal and political clarity. ASEAN countries, however, are used to dealing with such complexity – and are, after all, on the front line in the South China Sea contests. Australia’s response needs to be informed by such ASEAN perspectives.

In an analysis of the dispute, the ASEAN experts have developed the following themes:

  • While no one is pleased with China’s expansive claims, this does not amount to a vindication of the Philippines. There is considerable discontent at the Filipino handling of this issue and resistance to an “anti-China” position.
  • Anxiety about the possibility that the decision will exacerbate division within ASEAN – and a continuing belief that ASEAN is essential to the stability of the region.
  • While China’s activity is debated, its role in the region is complex and in many ways positive. The ASEAN-China relationship should not be ‘held hostage to what happens in the South China Sea’.
  • While the United States, Australia and Japan have contributed to the stability of the region, some ASEAN specialists fear that they may respond to the court decision in ways that could aggravate the dispute and further divide ASEAN.
  • There is a strong preference for ASEAN to focus on ‘managing’ the disputes, acknowledging that ‘resolution’ is highly ambitious. The hope among several experts is that the PCA ruling will inject new urgency into a finalised Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.
  • There is a continuing faith in ASEAN diplomacy - in pursuing patient negotiations with China, seeking a workable accommodation.

Regional experts interviewed by Asialink:

Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap
Research Fellow at the ASEAN Studies Centre of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore

Kwa Chong Guan
Senior Fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University and Adj. Assoc. Professor in History at National University of Singapore

Dr Carolina Hernandez
Emeritus Professor at the University of the Philippines and Founding President of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) Philippines

Elina Noor
Director of Foreign Policy and Security Studies, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia

Dr Ngeow Chow Bing
Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya

Dr Tran Truong Thuy
Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Foundation for East Sea Studies at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

Dr Suchit Bunbongkarn
Emeritus Professor at Chulalongkorn University and Chairman of Advisory Board at the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) Thailand

Evan Laksmana
Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia

Dr Lee Poh Ping
Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya

Herman Kraft
Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) Philippines and Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines

Ong Keng Yong
Executive Deputy Chairman, the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore

Bilahari Kausikan
Ambassador-at-Large in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore

Read the report.

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Renuka Rajadurai

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