Takeaway from FM's Southeast Asia trip: US instigation will not become a dividing line between China and ASEAN
Published: Aug 13, 2023 10:03 PM
Photo: fmprc.gov.cn

Photo: fmprc.gov.cn

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, visited Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia from Thursday to Sunday upon invitation. During his trip, some Western media outlets have been hyping that China is launching a diplomatic offensive at a time when the China-Philippine conflict in the South China Sea over the Ren'ai Reef is escalating. They wanted to create a false impression that China-ASEAN mutual political trust has been affected by the South China Sea issue. However, such instigation will not become a dividing line between China and ASEAN, as Wang's successful visit to the three Southeast Asian countries is sufficient proof of mutual trust between China and ASEAN. 

As the Philippines, instigated by the US, has recently made some waves over the Ren'ai Reef issue, the South China Sea issue has once again become a hot topic and a tool for Western countries and media to instigate China-ASEAN relations. Under the prism of Western media outlets, Wang's visit was mainly aimed at addressing concerns about the conflicts in the water and weakening the relationships between the US on one side, and Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia on the other.

"This precisely shows that they, stuck in a zero-sum mentality, are deliberately over-interpreting this visit and create an atmosphere where China is seen as trying to squeeze the US out of Southeast Asia," said Li Kaisheng, vice president of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. He emphasized that it is the US that frequently stirs up the South China Sea issue to disrupt China's relations with ASEAN countries and further strengthen its efforts to control the Southeast Asian region.

Ge Hongliang, deputy director of the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities, also stated that "China has always advocated for an independent diplomacy. China's cooperation with ASEAN countries is not based on influencing their foreign policies or their independence and autonomy."

Due to Philippines' provocation with the support of the US, the South China Sea issue has resurfaced, causing concerns among some ASEAN countries. But ASEAN countries basically hoped to resolve the South China Sea dispute peacefully and avoid regional stability being affected by the South China Sea issue, said Li. He added Singapore and Cambodia have always maintained a clear position, which is not to take sides. 

ASEAN and China will be resuming the negotiations for a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea on August 22-24. It's widely believed that the general attitude of ASEAN countries is to not disrupt the current positive momentum of the negotiations.

During Wang's visit to Singapore and Malaysia, he criticized the US and some other forces for constantly making waves in the sea for fear that the South China Sea will no longer be chaotic. The Philippines, supported by the US, has exacerbated the tensions surrounding the Ren'ai Reef issue, and the close military cooperation between the Philippines and the US has reached a worrisome level. It could be said that the Philippines has been dragged deeper into the water to an alarming level by the US and needs to be vigilant. 

Li further argued that the US-Philippines cooperation serves the US' agenda of restraining China or causing regional disruption, which contradicts the interests of regional stability, development, and prosperity. However, this undermines the efforts of ASEAN countries to maintain regional peace and stability and focus on development. The increasing military collaboration between the US and the Philippines is just one example of how the US has been gradually expanding its military influence in the Asia-Pacific region. This military buildup raises concerns among most ASEAN countries as it increases the risk of military conflict in the region.

Over the years, with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN, stability has been achieved in the situation in the South China Sea, providing a conducive environment for their respective development. It is important to emphasize that all countries in the region share the goal of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.
The Joint Statement on The 20th Anniversary of The Declaration on The Conduct of Parties in The South China Sea, approved by ASEAN and China in November 2022, emphasized all parties recognize "the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation" at the very beginning. 

The Ren'ai Reef row between China and the Philippines will not affect China's and ASEAN's positions on the South China Sea or their bilateral relations. China's relationship with ASEAN is stable, and mutual trust between China and ASEAN has been steadily increasing in recent years. While the development of China-ASEAN relations still requires further adjustment, as long as everyone can adapt to the trend of development and integration, we will undoubtedly find our own way to solve problems as Asians. Any external force attempting to disrupt regional cooperation will inevitably feel powerless in this process.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. suyaxuan@globaltimes.com.cn