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Nishinippon Shimbun, Japan

ASEAN: US-China Tug-of-War Intensifies

Translated By Ryo Christopher Kato

11 November 2012

Edited by Vic­to­ria Denholm

Japan - Nishinippon Shimbun - Original Article (Japanese)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations held a summit meeting between the 18th and 20th of November in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The heads of Japan, the U.S., and China attended. With the meeting as a background, China, which is trying to exert influence over the region, and the U.S., which touts the Asian Pivot, engaged in theatrical saber rattling.

Recently re-elected President Obama was a must-see. Leaving the meeting early, he made his first ever visit to Burma, where he met President Thein Sein and Party Leader of the largest opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Obama commended Burma’s steps toward democracy, saying, “our goal is to sustain the momentum for democratization.”

In the period of military rule, Burma was close to China. The U.S. is using democratization as a chance to bring Burma closer and to drive a wedge between it and China.

China is not giving up without a fight. Premier Wen Jiabao spoke with Cambodia’s Hun Sen to seek understanding of Beijing’s standpoint regarding the territorial disputes with China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Cambodia, which receives a great amount of economic assistance from China, is the only pro-China country in ASEAN. Premier Wen commented, “external forces should not use any excuse to interfere,” warning the United States not to meddle in the South China Sea disputes.

The undercurrent of this dispute is between China, which is expanding its navy and extending its influence out to the South China Sea and Western Pacific, and the United States, which is trying to maintain the current order in the Pacific.

The spat between Japan and China, with its own territorial disputes over the Senkakus, is also a part of the U.S.-China disputes. To China, the Senkakus are not valuable for its fisheries or underground resources, but more so as a naval route from its shores to the Pacific.

The question of how to deal with a rapidly emerging China is a common challenge for Japan and ASEAN. As China asserts itself on the Senkakus and the South Pacific, neighboring countries become increasingly wary.

The second Obama administration’s Asia pivot is a welcome policy that will help stabilize the region.

On the 20th, President Obama urged the related states to create a legally binding “Code of Conduct.” This is a valid proposal to halt territorial disputes before they turn violent.

Japan, too, must support ASEAN’s creation of rules on maritime security involving China and neighboring countries. Such rules can also be applied to the East China Sea.

As the U.S.-China tug-of-war intensifies, ASEAN is beginning to split between pro-Beijing and pro-Washington factions. ASEAN is important as the parent organization for multilateral conferences. As a country trusted by ASEAN, Japan must help support ASEAN’s central role in the region.



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