Moving in the Right Direction

For 13 years the countries of Southeast Asia have tried building a framework with China to resolve their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

That plan has been eclipsed in part, officials at high-level talks in Malaysia this weekend acknowledged, in favor of a blunter strategy for dealing with China: strengthening alliances between countries anxious about Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior.

This also runs counter to the People’s Republic of China’s strongly stated and often repeated preference for dealing with each of the South China Sea nations in strictly bilateral talks—one-on-one talks that the PRC could easily dominate.

Events like Vietnam and the Republic of the Philippines moving outside ASEAN to deal directly with each other and with other interested parties are intended to give those with disputes with the PRC’s sea grab a more powerful position from which to answer the PRC’s aggressions.

These budding arrangements also surround the signing of a new US-ASEAN strategic partnership, an arrangement that is intended to guide interactions between the two over the next five years and to

deepen the relationship as well as priority areas for cooperation not just between the two sides, but also on regional, global and transnational issues.

Whatever that means.

It’s good that the South China Sea nations are beginning to band together in order to better address the PRC’s acquisitiveness. That their moves don’t involve the US, despite President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” is…instructive.

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