By Mei Jingya, Sina English
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Wednesday that Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei, all members of ASEAN, are considering joint maritime patrols near waters off Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The move is reportedly to monitor 'illegal fishing activities’ by Chinese fishermen and counter “China’s hegemony” in the South China Sea.
An Indonesia military official said that instead of staying inside their own exclusive economic zones, coordinated action will enhance radio communication of information and hopefully achieve better results.
An exact date has yet to be decided, but the sooner, the better, he added.
China and the other four claimants have many interests in common or overlapping, in particular, in recent years, China has acted as a locomotive to lead the regional economy and also become the leading trade partner of all the four countries aforementioned.
The question now is whether this proposed united front helps them gain bargaining chip when dealing with China. Will pinning China as their common enemy help resolve the South China Sea debates?
A comment published by Indonesia’s Jakarda Globe on June 13 made its point very clear. In an article titled “On the South China Sea, an ASEAN united front won’t help anybody, especially not Indonesia”, the author said “a united front might provide short-lived, small-scale benefits to the ASEAN states involved in the dispute, but it would be detrimental to ASEAN as a whole.”
As a regional body, ASEAN is supposed to offer solutions to disputes rather than provoke new tensions.
As the on-going standoff between China and the Philippines seems to de-escalate and both sides seek diplomatic solutions, the fresh saber-rattling in the region could generate new and, perhaps, escalated troubles.
A senior Philippine security official said on Tuesday that a coast guard vessel has remained at Huangyan Island despite bad weather, the Philippine Star reported on June 13. In the past, the Philippines would have pulled out all ships in the area because it does not have an all-weather vessel that could withstand strong storms at this time of the year.
Coincidentally, the U.S. Defense Department also revealed on Tuesday that it is planning to help the Philippines with a coastal monitoring program, but the development is still in initial stage. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) responded that the timely help from Pentagon will enhance the military’s efforts to shift from internal to territorial defense.
Emboldened by Washington, the regional arms race might come forward, which proves harmful to not only the regional players, but to the world peace in the backdrop of a subtle international situation.