OPINION / VIEWPOINT
ASEAN must assert itself and not be kidnapped by US agenda
Published: Jun 15, 2021 08:38 PM
China-ASEAN Photo:VCG

China-ASEAN Photo:VCG

The 8th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) is scheduled to take place on Wednesday. This will see ASEAN ministers virtually meet counterparts with their eight partner countries - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.

Launched in 2010, the ADMM-Plus has enhanced dialogue and cooperation among ASEAN and Plus countries against the backdrop of the increasingly challenging regional security environment. As a mechanism for communication, the meeting is of profound significance. Southeast Asia is encountering a number of security threats including terrorism. In this sense, strengthening communication among the eight partners can effectively enhance regional stability. Furthermore, the meeting can help maintain ASEAN's central role in the regional order.

In 2020, See Seng Tan, a professor of International Relations at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, published an article on the ADMM-Plus, entitled "ADMM+ a plus for mitigating US-China rivalry."

ASEAN-centric platforms provide opportunities for China and the US to engage in dialogues. This is positive for both countries to improve their ties. But the fact is that many of these platforms, such as the Shangri-La Dialogue, have not effectively relieved China-US tensions. 

This is mainly because many suspect the Washington aims to contain Beijing. And it is still unclear whether or not the US is seeking constructive dialogues with China, or containing China via participating the activities of the platforms. ASEAN does not want to take sides between the two countries, and can thus hardly mitigate the ongoing China-US competition. 

It seems that Washington is using every possible multilateral occasion to rope more countries in to deal with Beijing. It's very likely that Washington will do so again at the meeting. The US has made great efforts to rally allies against China during the G7 and NATO summits. It's anticipated that Washington will lead Japan and Australia, and even ASEAN into containment actions against China. ASEAN will be the next focus that Washington will pay more attention to in order to draw it to its side. Therefore, at the ADMM-Plus meeting, it's highly likely and no surprise that Washington will use this platform to exert great pressure on China, especially through the South China Sea issue. In fact, it will make use of South China Sea affairs to drive a wedge between China and ASEAN.  

In 2015, the ADMM-Plus meeting failed to produce a joint statement, as the US insisted on putting the South China Sea issue in a joint statement. Washington plays a leading role in most of the multilateral mechanisms, and ASEAN must prevent the meeting from being kidnapped by the US. To achieve this, ASEAN must first maintain its centrality and not allow the meeting to be dominated by the Washington agenda. Second, when it comes to South China Sea disputes, consensus or early agreements reached among relevant claimants should be respected. For instance, China and relevant claimants within ASEAN have agreed to resolve problems through political consultations, and Washington shouldn't be allowed to make irresponsible remarks as a third party. As long as these two points are upheld, ASEAN can avoid being kidnapped by the US.  

All ASEAN members and their eight partners care about the South China Sea affairs. However, countries outside the region, such as the US, Japan and Australia, have recently repeatedly interfered in the region. This is not conducive to resolving the issue. It has instead increased the region's instability. 

As partners, these countries should play the following roles. First, they should actively encourage and support the relevant claimants to engage in dialogues and try various effective solutions. Second, countries (especially the US, Japan and Australia) should not meddle with the situation in the South China Sea and turn it into a hot-spot region out of their own interests. They are even using the South China Sea issue as a tool to achieve their political goals. This includes driving a wedge between China and ASEAN. But these countries, in reality, cannot avoid such a pattern. In so doing, they will put their political interests first instead of regional security. The outlook for them really to solve the South China Sea issue is pessimistic.

The author is research fellow and deputy director at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
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