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China, US standoff to test Asean unity

Senator says it will focus on geo-political ties of the super-powers

Gulf News

Manila: A standoff between China and the United States over the former’s flexing of military might in the South China Sea, could happen in the future, which could also test the unity of the 10-member countries of the Association of the South China Sea, a Philippine senator said.

It could also test the future geo-political relationship of the two super-powers, who are trade and financial partners, said Sen. Miriam Defensor- Santiago in a radio interview on Sunday, various media agencies reported.

“The two giant economies are preparing for a standoff [in the South China Sea],” said Santiago, in reference to China’s recent statement that Hainan province could board and order foreign ships out of the South China Sea, and the release of China’s e-passport which included graphic depiction of China’s entire claim in the South China Sea,

China was prompted by the US’s announcement of rebalancing — with 60 per cent of its naval presence in the Asia Pacific region in the near future, explained Santiago.

China’s flexing of military might in the South China Sea is backed up by economic might, now that it has become the second largest world economy, said Santiago, adding, “To put it literally, China is testing the waters.”

Explaining China’s predicament over the US, Santiago said, “China could be saying [to the US], ‘you are my major borrower, so I can do what I want [in the Asia-Pacific region at your expense]’.”

The US recession that began in 2008 has had a political impact which is now happening in the South China Sea, Santiago said, adding at the time the US government was prompted to sell government bonds. “This is actually an IOU note. [And] most of these bonds were bought by China.”

“[As a result] China has become swollen-headed because the US has obligations to it that add up to $13 billion (Dh47.73 billion),” said Santiago.

The complex US-China relations could affect the Philippines, a US ally in the region, said Santiago, who envisageda possible repeat of the time when the former United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) used Cuba to impose economic sanctions against the US during the time of US President John Kennedy and USSR Prime Minister Nikita Kruschev in the mid-’60s.

At the same time, the US-China standoff in the future has started to divide ASEAN. Four former Indo-China’s block, composed of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, are now ASEAN members and also perceived as pro-China.

Six other ASEAN member countries, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand are not expected to be a solid anti-China, said Santiago.

“China does not want to have a united ASEAN. China wants to talk to each country [that has claims in the South China Sea],” said Santiago.

Prescribing what should be done, Santiago said that Philippine officials must continue pushing for the implementation of the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea and “prove to the world that international law is working”.

“The failure of international law in the Philippines-China case will be a failure of international law all over the world,” Santiago warned.

At the same time, diplomacy and back-channel talks must begin, to prevent the overlapping claims in the South China Sea deteriorating and reaching a flashpoint which could damage the region’s economic growth, said Santiago.