ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Focuses on South China Sea China both fights and pulls on neighboring countries

The new ASEAN Defense Ministers meeting in Brunei adopted a joint declaration emphasizing the need to continue implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and to reach a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea as soon as possible to create a peaceful, stable and prosperous South China Sea. Some experts pointed out that the South China Sea is becoming a new version of the “fog of peace” in the “fog of war” because of China’s two tactics of both fighting and pulling against neighboring countries.

Meeting Adopts Joint Declaration

The 15th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) was held in Brunei on Tuesday (June 15). The meeting was conducted by video and chaired by Brunei’s Second Minister of Defense Halby. According to Vietnam News Agency, the meeting was attended by defense ministers of 10 ASEAN countries and ASEAN Secretary General Lim Ngoc Huy.

The meeting adopted a joint declaration, the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration. The declaration reaffirmed the need to continue implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to make the South China Sea a peaceful, stable and prosperous sea.

The declaration reflects the high awareness of the participating defense ministers of the need to maintain peace, stability, security, and safety of navigation in the South China Sea, and welcomes the various rules and initiatives that have been agreed upon by all parties.

These include the Code of Unintended Encounters at Sea (CUES), the Code of Air Encounters by Military Aircraft (GAME), the Maritime Interaction Guidelines, the ASEAN Direct Liaison Infrastructure (ADI), and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The ASEAN has been accused of saying more than it does and doing more.

ASEAN is accused of saying more than doing less

In an interview with the Voice of America, Su Ziyun, director of the Institute for Defense Strategy and Resources at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Studies, said that NATO is like a well-organized, treaty-based collective defense system if compared with the NATO summit declaration recently. It is based on this characteristic that NATO was able to make a unified decision to directly name China as posing a systemic challenge to the international order and the security of the transatlantic alliance.

However, Su Ziyun pointed out that ASEAN is a looser grouping and does not have a collective mandatory treaty per se, but is more like a dialogue mechanism, so the ASEAN declaration, too, is only regulating the parties in the hope that they will avoid gunfire in the event of a naval or air encounter in the South China Sea. According to Su Ziyun, this is a more passive security mechanism.

Hu Yishan, a senior researcher at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told the Voice of America: “The South (China) Sea Declaration is, as the name implies, a declaration, and of course the parties that signed it should morally abide by the spirit, but it is limited to the spirit, because it does not list in detail some of the legally binding norms of behavior and constraints. “

According to Hu Yishan, this is why, over the past years, ASEAN countries have been hoping for a more binding code of conduct for the South China Sea, not just a declaration. Hu Yishan said, “But it seems that the progress is still slow.”

The South China Sea issue has been a key topic of ASEAN defense ministers’ meetings for years. Last December, 10 ASEAN countries issued a statement stressing the importance of “promoting maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight, and creating an environment conducive to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea.”

Incident-prone South China Sea

The South China Sea has been the scene of various sovereignty disputes in recent years, and in early June, Malaysia accused China of sending more than a dozen Chinese military aircraft into the country’s air defense identification zone. Earlier in the year, Chinese maritime survey vessels and oil exploration vessels entered Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, sparking strong discontent on the Malaysian side.

In addition, in March, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats gathered for weeks near Whitson Reef (known in China as Niuyu Reef) off the Philippines. The Philippines sent military aircraft to patrol the waters daily. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs protested daily to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, asking the boats to leave. The Philippines says the fishermen on the boats are made-up maritime militiamen.

Vietnam is very disturbed by China’s reclamation of islands and construction of military facilities in several disputed waters in the South China Sea. In recent years, Vietnam has expanded its military presence in the South China Sea in response to a significant increase in Chinese military pressure from a country that was subject to Chinese military incursions in the 1990s. Vietnam’s military installations and defense capabilities have been increasing in several areas of the South China Sea.

Even Indonesia, which does not have a direct sovereignty dispute with China, has recently strengthened its maritime border defenses in response to China’s increasingly frequent maritime incursions.

Despite all the “declarations”, “guidelines” and initiatives adopted by ASEAN countries, and the various meetings held, the sea is still the scene of disputes, sometimes with a rather intense and tense conflict, which makes one wonder if these efforts This leads one to suspect that these efforts are just words, without any real effect.

Is the South China Sea becoming a “fog of peace”?

In an interview with the Voice of America, Huang Huihua, a researcher at Taiwan’s Asia-Pacific Defense Research Center, said the South China Sea issue is very complex, with significant differences and limited optimistic expectations. She said, “China’s goal is to deepen Southeast Asian countries’ dependence on China, while making them (realize they) have nothing to gain by confronting China over territorial disputes.”

Huang Huihua said China’s strategy in the South China Sea in recent years has been to assert its sovereignty while drawing in all parties; expanding its engagement with ASEAN countries through multi-level diplomacy, politics and economics on the one hand, and continuing to exert pressure on territorial disputes on the other.

Su Ziyun, director of the Institute for Defense Strategy and Resources at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Studies, also said that Beijing’s diplomatic efforts have been very active, with recent one-on-one dialogues and contacts with various ASEAN member states, seeking some degree of tacit understanding between these countries and Beijing, and even the possibility of some military cooperation.

Su Ziyun described the situation as a “fog of peace”. He said the “fog of war,” as it is often called, has turned into a “fog of peace” in the South China Sea, “which means that suddenly there will be some tensions, but then there will be some individual cooperation with Beijing, which will become a more ambiguous state. The state of ambiguity.”

Extraterritorial countries actively participate

Su Ziyun pointed out that in terms of geostrategy, the South China Sea has a transcendent regional importance, with about 60 percent of the world’s maritime trade and up to $5.3 trillion worth of goods passing through the waters. For Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China, the South China Sea is their maritime lifeline.

Because of this, Su Ziyun said, extraterritorial countries, such as the United States, Australia, Japan and India, are also actively involved, and they are even more active than ASEAN countries in curbing China’s expansionist posture.

In the last two years, various U.S. warships and military aircraft have entered the South China Sea more frequently for reconnaissance and free navigation activities to deter the Chinese Communist military. At the same time, a growing number of Western countries and other U.S. allies such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, Canada, and India have sent warships or have indicated that they will soon send warships to the South China Sea to join U.S. forces in free navigation and military exercises.

These activities have given confidence to countries around the South China Sea, which are much weaker than China, to stand up to Chinese oppression.