China-ASEAN ties anchor for regional security

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/8 19:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). When it comes to the most important role that ASEAN has played in the past five decades, the answers vary.

Some would say economic integration. ASEAN was first established to promote the economic cooperation of its member states. It won some achievements in economic dialogue and cooperation from the 1960s to the 1980s, but there was generally more talk than action. It was in the late 1990s that ASEAN gradually put economic integration on its agenda due to the shock of Asian financial crisis. In other words, ASEAN started playing a critical role in the regional economy just over 20 years ago.

Some would say ASEAN's most important role has been social and cultural development. Nonetheless, when the world entered the new century, ASEAN countries were still focused on heightening awareness about the organization. And due to the complicated ethnic, religious and political backdrop in Southeast Asia, ASEAN still faces insurmountable difficulties in building a common social and cultural awareness and identity.

In fact, it is in regional security and stability, which ASEAN leaders avoided touching on in the first place, that ASEAN has played a crucial role. Particularly since the mid-1970s, ASEAN and China have gradually formed a stable relationship of dialogue and cooperation in regional security, which to a great degree constitutes the anchor for regional security and stability.

In the first 10 years after its establishment, ASEAN's major contribution to regional security and stability was coordinating the intricate relations between Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, especially helping solve the Philippine-Malaysian dispute over the eastern part of Sabah.

But ASEAN made little effort to be involved in regional security affairs. After ASEAN participated in addressing Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, ASEAN became a crucial player in regional security and stability, and started dialogue and cooperation with China. The opening has some relation to China's change of its understanding of ASEAN. China no longer took ASEAN as an anti-China organization after the Philippines and Malaysia established diplomatic ties with China and strengthened their political, economic and cultural exchanges in the mid-1970s. Instead, after forming a tacit alliance with ASEAN, China came to accept ASEAN's insistence on principles in regional security affairs and the value of its norms. This understanding has laid a far-reaching foundation for the two to continue their dialogue and cooperation.

In the post-Cold War era, China and ASEAN countries face a variety of regional security challenges including religious and ethnic conflicts, territorial and maritime disputes, terrorists and pirates, transnational crimes at sea, and human and drug trafficking. Hence, China, one of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) founders, began working with ASEAN nations to address these complicated threats.

Safeguarding security and stability in the South China Sea has been a common goal of China and ASEAN since the 1990s, and both sides have taken substantive steps in terms of rules, mechanisms and cooperation.

Specifically, based on the joint statement issued by China and the Philippines in August 1995, China and ASEAN nations held rounds of political consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, set up the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002 and signed the guidelines for the DOC implementation in 2011. Since 2013, China and ASEAN have made remarkable progress in making equal consultations over the COC and agreed on a framework for the COC in May. Foreign ministers of ASEAN and China adopted the COC framework during a meeting in Manila on Sunday.

Despite the maritime clashes and confrontation between China and ASEAN countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, the situation in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea has generally been under control and basically stable. In handling unconventional security threats such as terrorism and drugs, China's cooperation with ASEAN countries has played a critical role.

ASEAN's 50 years of efforts and achievements in maintaining regional security and stability bring honor to the organization, and are closely linked with China's support and cooperation. The four decades of regional security cooperation between China and ASEAN shows that this cooperation is the anchor for regional stability. To this end, ASEAN countries need to have more sincerity, patience and wisdom regarding regional security, and meanwhile China has to be more resolute in shouldering its responsibility and playing its important role.

The author is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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