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China-ASEAN ties: Are they stronger and healthier?

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Late last month, China and ASEAN formally upgraded their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

With the title usually reserved for countries with very close relations, the upgrade suggests a substantive deepening of relations and convergences on issues across the spectrum.

Despite the title and supposedly stronger ties, however, relations between China and ASEAN remain marred with fundamentally different views about the South China Sea, a strategic hot spot where intractable territorial issues remain.

These differences were vividly on display at the South China Sea International Conference hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam held earlier in November.

This dialogue included academics including myself and policymakers from stakeholders in the region interested in defusing the tensions in the South China Sea and finding ways to build a constructive future.

What was clear from the dialogue is that views on the future of the South China Sea diverged into two versions. The first imagined by most countries saw international law and a rules-based approach to dealing with territorial disputes as being key to peace and stability in the region.

They agreed that it was in the interests of all parties to act in accordance with international law such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to settle territorial disputes and to find a common path forward.

The second version was articulated by Chinese representatives.

Chinese counterparts........

© The Japan Times

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