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Time for Asean to speak up about the South China Sea

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THERE appears to be a collective aversion among government officials and heads-of-state in Southeast Asia to speak up in public about Chinese transgressions and coercion in the South China Sea.

Such reticence is based on misplaced fear of Chinese repercussions and does a disservice to regional interests, undermines deterrence and needlessly concedes leverage in negotiations with China on territorial disputes or a South China Sea Code of Conduct.

This sentiment was on display in a recent interview with Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who downplayed concerns over Chinese activities in the disputed waters. Ng said calling China a regional hegemon was a matter of “opinion”, gave credence to China’s “peaceful rise” narrative and highlighted China’s positive role in economics and trade. All were unprompted comments made in the context of discussing the South China Sea disputes.

SEE ALSO: Could climate change be the key to ending South China Sea conflict?

Other leaders in Southeast Asia, such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, have also made accommodating statements that seem to downplay China’s actions in the South China Sea.

Asean chairman statements are noteworthy for their relatively benign rhetoric and failure to include terms........

© Asian Correspondent