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The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-plus fails to agree on South China Sea

dlaminiThe regional retreat of the Third ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM-Plus) plus eight other countries; Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, took place on the 4th November 2015 in Malaysia. However the meeting faced a setback when the Ministers failed to issue a joint declaration of the regional security for the first time in the ADMM-Plus. The failure is attributed to the issues of the South China Sea dispute, where it said that China opposed the mention of its construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea in the joint statement.

This is not the first time the South China Sea dispute caused a failure to have a joint statement in the ASEAN meetings. In 2012 during the 45th ASEAN regional summit in Cambodia, the South China Sea became a subject of contention and member states failed to issue a joint statement on how to deal with the dispute to bring about peace and security in the region. This was also pointed out to China’s influence in the Southeast Asia region in lobbying some of the ASEAN member states to support its claim in the South China Sea.

So while China is blamed for the failure of ADMM-Plus to issue a joint statement, it must also be noted that the Chinese government always believes that the territorial issue will only be settled reasonably without any third party involved in the negotiation.This is not a position that China is willing to compromise. The South China Sea promises both political and economic influence over the Southeast Asia region, and the assertiveness of China poses a great threat not only to the interests of other claimant states but also the interests of the third parties like the United States. This has become a power game between China and the US. It has been argued that the U.S is using other claimant states such as Philippines to challenge China’s dominance in the SCS, while at the same time it seeks to achieve what China aims to achieve; to control and dominate the Asia-Pacific region.

If China is to ever agree to any form of multilateral dialogue to decide on how the South China Sea should be resolved, this would mean that China recognises the role of the third parties in resolving the dispute, which means it would be giving away its strategic card in pursuing its interest in the South China Sea. So far China has an upper hand on how to approach and resolve the dispute by refusing any interference from non claimant states, and this is a stance China will seek to hold on to for a long time.

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