During the 18th ASEAN Summit held in Jakarta, Indonesia, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines called upon Southeast Asian nations to cease “risky” activities in the South China Sea expressing concern about the “dangerous deployment” of coast guard and militia vessels, citing the Philippines’ maritime jurisdiction.
Marcos emphasized the Philippines’ strong support for adhering to international law and a rules-based order. He stressed the need to oppose the hazardous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea and raised concerns about illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and the militarization of reclaimed parts of the region, without explicitly mentioning China.
Marcos called upon ASEAN and its partners to unite their shared interests and collaborate through joint action, guided by ASEAN centrality and universal multilateralism. He urged all parties to exercise self-restraint and refrain from unilateral and assertive activities that could escalate tensions, lead to misunderstandings, and result in miscalculations in the South China Sea.
He also stressed the importance of preventing further escalation of tensions in the South China Sea and expressed the Philippines’ desire for a peaceful resolution of disputes, even though he acknowledged that the vision of making the South China Sea an area of peace and stability remains distant.
Experts have warned that the ASEAN economy could face significant challenges if it decides to take sides in the escalating tensions between its major trading partners, the United States and China, especially if states feeling threatened by Beijing counter its growing influence in the South China Sea by approaching the U.S. for help.
The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) highlighted the substantial growth in ASEAN’s trade with both Washington and Beijing from 2000 to 2022. ASEAN-US trade increased more than threefold, rising from $135 billion to $452 billion. Meanwhile, trade between ASEAN and China grew to a remarkable 24 times its size in the same period, climbing from $39 billion to $975 billion. Additionally, ASEAN experienced robust trade growth with Europe, tripling from $110 billion to $342 billion.
As ASEAN nations strive to strike a balance between their relationships with the US and China, they also need to be less conciliatory towards their biggest neighbour, China.
* The South China Sea is an area where China, Taiwan, and ASEAN members, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have overlapping territorial claims, and it serves as a crucial global trade route.