Thitinan Pongsudhirak has in an op-ed in today’s Bangkok Post about the recent ASEAN meeting in Cambodia. He says:
The post-mortems of the failure by Asean to agree on a hitherto routine joint statement after their 45th Ministerial Meeting are coming in thick and heavy. Recriminations and acrimony are crisscrossing the region, the shockwaves being felt and analysed across the Pacific and to the Atlantic.
The annual ministerial joint communiques are as old as Asean itself. Its unprecedented absence is thus a serious setback for the 10-member organisation, a crucial blow to its credibility and coherence in the lead-up to its much-vaunted Asean Community by 2015. While the diplomatic damage incurred in Phnom Penh will be glossed over in Asean capitals, serious and effective efforts beyond damage-control are needed before the Asean summit and its related top-level meetings with other major partners are held in November.
What transpired in the Cambodian capital on July 13 is still not completely clear and confirmed. But it is widely accepted that Asean’s inability to stand jointly on even a diluted position was attributable to Cambodia’s disagreement with the Philippines and Vietnam. As the rotating chair of Asean for 2012, Cambodia refused to include specific references to the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which is being hotly disputed by the Philippines and China. Vietnam also wanted to include wording on its right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as sanctioned by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. In other words, both Manila and Hanoi have rejected and challenged Beijing’s claims over practically the entire South China Sea, through which more than half of global shipping passes. Apart from the Philippines and Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also are Asean claimants of parts of the sea vis-a-vis China.
Thitinan says ASEAN’s “regional mix” is structurally different from the recent past” for at least three reasons:
…First, China’s posture is much more assertive and less hedged, as evident on South China Sea issues and beyond…
Second, the US is more engaged as opposed to the previous decade. Its rebalancing means certain Asean members can rely on the US’s new posture to hedge and leverage vis-a-vis China…
Third, Asean’s internal coherence is not what it used to be…
Worth a read.
Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal‘s Southeast Asia Real Time had a story last week on the fallout from the meeting.