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Asean could bear fallout from giants’ dispute over South China Sea

04 Jan Asean could bear fallout from giants’ dispute over South China Sea

SIIA Chairman Simon Tay and SIIA Council Member Manu Bhaskaran were quoted by TODAY’s Eileen Ng in an article on how South-east Asian countries could be forced to choose sides between China and the United States, particularly when it comes to the South China Sea issue. There is also uncertainty over US President-elect Donald Trump’s policy towards Asia. An excerpt of their comments is below. The full article is available from TODAY and was originally published on 4 Jan 2017.

With the region expected to be going through “much volatility” this year, Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Asean’s credibility will depend on how it engages with the two giants — China and the US.

“Asean will shoot itself in the foot if (its unity) starts to fray. Sometimes, it is wiser to maintain one’s unity by not moving too fast or strongly on any issues, sometimes it is better to take a wait-and-see approach,” he said.

The common economic interests in the form of the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact may help to lower temperatures in the region. The RCEP has taken on additional importance since Mr Trump has vowed to jettison the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement once he takes office on Jan 20.

But Mr Manu Bhaskaran, founding CEO of Centennial Asia Advisors, said that common interests in the RCEP may not lead to improved political dynamics, noting that the security compulsions driving China’s assertive stance in the South China Sea appear to be very important in the minds of Chinese policy makers. “It is unlikely that they will downgrade those concerns in order to achieve an RCEP agreement. Given that countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines are shifting closer to China anyway, why would it have to do so?” he said.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Laos

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