SE Asia Unity Tested as Tensions Spike

Joseph Keefe
Friday, May 09, 2014

A surge of tensions in the South China Sea threatens to widen divisions between Southeast Asian nations at a summit this weekend, posing a severe test for host Myanmar as the newly democratic country seeks to manage the region's growing alarm over China.

The routine annual meeting of Southeast Asian leaders has been given a jolt of urgency by a series of collisions this week between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels after China stationed a giant oil rig near the disputed Paracel islands, off Vietnam's coast. Both sides have blamed the other, and dozens of coastguard and patrol vessels are in the area.

Tensions also spiked in another part of the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, with Beijing demanding that U.S. ally the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

In particular, the unprecedented move by China to plant its drilling rig in Vietnam-claimed waters and guard it with dozens of ships appears likely to dominate discussions at the summit, raising questions over Southeast Asia's efforts to agree common maritime rules in ongoing talks with Beijing.

Myanmar, whose chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year marks a coming out on the international stage following the restoration of democracy in 2011, must walk a fine line between preserving ASEAN unity and not upsetting China, its biggest trade partner.

Differences within the group are already coming to the surface. Philippine diplomats told Reuters that some states were opposed to issuing a separate statement on the latest South China Sea or mentioning the tensions in the communique.

Vietnam has said it will insist on a discussion of the row.

"This issue (China's oil rig deployment) is dangerous, sensitive, and threatening peace, stability, security and maritime safety in the East Sea (South China Sea)," said Le Hai Binh, a foreign ministry spokesman in Hanoi.

"Previous ASEAN summits always discuss the South China Sea issue, so Vietnam will definitely make sure this issue will be discussed at this summit."

Ian Storey, a security analyst at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said the summit in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw would be "another test of ASEAN unity."

"There will be countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia that will want to express serious concern at recent developments in the final communique," he said.

"Other members will be more wary, seeing the Paracels as a bilateral issue between Vietnam and China," he said.

Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand make up the other members of ASEAN, with the first three seen as especially keen to maintain good relations with China.

Singapore issued a statement on May 7 expressing concerns about recent developments and repeating previous calls for ASEAN and China to work for an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea - a set of rules governing naval actions.

Myanmar will host two broader regional summits later this year, culminating in the East Asia Summit in November that is attended by the U.S. president as well as the Chinese head of state.

It will be keen to avoid a repeat of a disastrous ASEAN summit in 2012 when host Cambodia, a close Chinese ally, attempted to keep the South China Sea row off the agenda, resulting in ASEAN's failure to issue a joint statement for the first time in 45 years.

TOUGH BALANCING ACT

China says territorial disputes should be discussed on a bilateral basis, but agreed at last year's summits in Brunei to join talks with ASEAN on framing a Code of Conduct that would govern maritime conduct, with the aim of reducing the likelihood of clashes in the South China Sea.

Beijing claims almost the entire sea, and rejects rival claims from Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The last four are ASEAN members.

The United States, which has forged closer security ties with Vietnam in recent years, has declared a national interest in freedom of navigation through the sea and this week called China's deployment of the oil rig "provocative and unhelpful." China in turn has blamed the United States for stoking tensions.

"China will keep talking about the Code of Conduct, as a short term strategy in damage control," says Maung Zarni, a Burmese political academic who is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics.

"But it will likely opt out of anything binding or anything that will restrict its ability to do what it feels to be its historical right - to exploit the South China Sea commercially, build its bases anywhere it deems essential, or disrupt other claimants' economic and military activities in the area."

During decades of isolation, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, relied on China as its closest diplomatic and military ally. But since Myanmar began pursuing dramatic reforms, its relationship with China has cooled.

"I think Myanmar will withstand Chinese pressure more effectively than Cambodia," said Sean Turnell, associate professor in economics at Macquarie University in Sydney.

"There really is a deep-seated loathing of aspects of Chinese commercial activity in Myanmar, and a belief the previous regime had made some bad bargains on energy and other big ticket deals."

An official with Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who declined to be identified, said a repeat of the 2012 breakdown was unlikely as Myanmar had been weaning itself away from Chinese influence in recent years.

"It can be seen, although not very clear, that Myanmar has been trying to reduce the influence of China in its country, economically and politically," the official said.

Still, Maung Zarni said Myanmar would likely avoid antagonizing China by pushing for faster progress in concluding a code of conduct.

"Myanmar may be more independent than Cambodia," he said. "But it is not independent enough for Naypyitaw to behave in any way that will displease, annoy, irritate or anger Beijing over the South China Sea issue."

 

By Paul Mooney

Maritime Reporter June 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Navy

‘Old Salt’ Designation Passed to Vice Adm. Tidd

The “Old Salt” designation, honoring the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) serving on active duty with the earliest Surface Warfare Qualification, passed from Adm. Sam Locklear to Vice Adm.

First Bodies Recovered from Deadliest Migrant Shipwreck

Italy's navy said on Tuesday it had retrieved the first bodies from the wreck of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean three months ago, killing up to 800 migrants

Wartsila Tunnel Thruster Gets LR Approval

Wartsila has successfully passed the final step of the Lloyd's Register (LRS) classification society's Type Approval process to obtain an LR Type Approval Certificate

Energy

Monopiles Terminal to Be Built in Rotterdam

Sif and Verbrugge to build terminal for offshore wind energy on Maasvlakte 2   Sif Group, Verbrugge International and the Port of Rotterdam Authority have signed

Ex-BP Engineer Deserves New Gulf Spill Trial -US Appeals Court

A former BP Plc engineer deserves a new trial on an obstruction of justice charge related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

Teekay Sells FPSO, Announces Dividend Boost

Teekay Corporation to complete sale of the Knarr FPSO and announces dividend increase of 75 percent   Teekay Corporation announced today that its board of directors

Patrol Boats

Tuco Reveals New Naval Interceptor Vessel Design

Following last week’s Seawork exhibition on workboats and small military and security vessels, Tuco Marine of Denmark reveals its newest vessel in the ProZero line.

Cargo Ship Celtica Hav Diverted To Aberdeen after Fire

Fire erupted in cargo holds of general cargo vessel Celtica Hav on June 25 shortly after she left Aberdeen UK, bound for Hamburg.    Vessel, which was bound for Hamburg,

New Fast Small Ship Simulator

A new Fast Small Ship Simulator for training crews working on high speed boats is in development. Together with Cruden and Tree C Technology, the Royal Dutch Naval

Maritime Security

Pirates and Hold-ups: Crime Strikes Venezuela's Oil Industry

When night falls over western Venezuela, armed gangs known as "pirates" sometimes ride boats into muggy Lake Maracaibo to steal equipment from oil wells.   In the country's Paraguana peninsula,

Activists Planning Protest Against Shell's Arctic Business

U.S. environmental activists said they planned to protest on Tuesday against the launch of the second of two oil rigs central to Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

Samsung Bags Order for Decks on Johan Sverdrup

Statoil, on behalf of the Johan Sverdrup license, has awarded Samsung the contract for decks for both the process and riser platforms.  The total contract value is NOK 7 billion.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard Monitoring Rocket Debris off US

The U.S. Coast Guard informs it is working with SpaceX and partner agencies to monitor the debris field of the exploded Falcon 9 rocket in the Atlantic Ocean more

Shell Rig Departs for Arctic Despite Protest

U.S. Coast Guard and police boats cleared a way through protesters in kayaks at a Seattle-area port on Tuesday so a drilling ship could head for the Arctic on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell.

Missing Divers Found in Gulf of Mexico

U.S. Coast Guard crews locate two missing divers in Gulf of Mexico   Two overdue divers offshore from San Jose Island, Texas, were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard

Eye on the Navy

‘Old Salt’ Designation Passed to Vice Adm. Tidd

The “Old Salt” designation, honoring the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) serving on active duty with the earliest Surface Warfare Qualification, passed from Adm. Sam Locklear to Vice Adm.

First Bodies Recovered from Deadliest Migrant Shipwreck

Italy's navy said on Tuesday it had retrieved the first bodies from the wreck of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean three months ago, killing up to 800 migrants

HMS Queen Elizabeth Powers to Life

U.K. Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has produced power from her onboard diesel generators (DGs) for the first time, marking a significant stage in the program.

Government Update

Monopiles Terminal to Be Built in Rotterdam

Sif and Verbrugge to build terminal for offshore wind energy on Maasvlakte 2   Sif Group, Verbrugge International and the Port of Rotterdam Authority have signed

US Issues Potential Setback to Shell's Arctic Drilling

The Obama administration issued a potential setback to Royal Dutch Shell's  Arctic oil exploration plans on Tuesday, telling the company that established wildlife

Ex-BP Engineer Deserves New Gulf Spill Trial -US Appeals Court

A former BP Plc engineer deserves a new trial on an obstruction of justice charge related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Naval Architecture Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Port Authority Salvage Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2476 sec (4 req/sec)