Today, the countries of the ASEAN are going through a very difficult period in their history, when their unity, cohesion and prosperity are being challenged as never before. The basic concept of independence of the region from the influence of external forces, embraced by this coalition, is hardly observed. Today’s objective is not to minimize foreign influence, but to ensure the ASEAN remains an integral, coherent regional organization despite the fact that the United States and China continue fighting tooth and nail for dominance in the Southeast Asia and the East Asia as a whole.
Tensions are ratcheting up between China and the United States over maritime boundaries in Asia.
Two recent close encounters between US spy planes and Chinese jets spell trouble for relations between Washington and Beijing. The first, between a US EP-3 spy plane and two Chinese jets over the South China Sea (SCS) near China’s Hainan Island, was strikingly similar to the 2001 incident in the same area in which a Chinese jet and an EP-3 collided, resulting in the death of the Chinese pilot, the forced landing and detention of the US crew, and a tense diplomatic row. The second involved a US RC-135 plane that was closely tracked by a Chinese jet over the East China Sea (ECS).
Such incidents, which also bring US and Chinese ships in close proximity, are happening with greater frequency these days. There are two reasons for this. China is backing its claims of “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands—the Spratlys (Nansha) and Paracels (Xisha) in the SCS, Diaoyudao (Senkaku) in the ECS—with military construction and personnel. And US naval and air maneuvers are deliberately challenging Chinese activity. Leaders of both countries are now issuing thinly veiled warnings, demanding acceptance of their respective positions, and disputing details of the encounters.
Earlier this year, despite immense fanfare, the US-ASEAN Summit held in Sunnylands, California ended in a fizzle rather than a bang. Little of substance emerged from and admittedly “symbolic” summit, and the US even went as far as criticizing guests as they departed – lecturing them regarding “democracy” and “human rights.”
Coupled with this send-off designed to humiliate, was the US State Department’s various funded media fronts operating in each respective ASEAN state, mocking and denigrating ASEAN leaders who have fallen from Washington’s favor.
Far from another step toward fostering better relations between Washington and Asia as prescribed by the US “pivot to Asia,” it was instead a transparent attempt to empty out the resources of the region via compromising and coercive free trade agreements – more specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – and line up an unwilling Southeast Asia as an adversarial proxy against Beijing – a notion none save for Washington attending the summit found appealing.