After the Big South China Sea Verdict, What Will ASEAN Say?

by Ankit Panda | June 30, 2016 | The Diplomat

In a service to all South China Sea watchers, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced that its award in Philippines v. China will be announced on July 12. For the outgoing Aquino administration in the Philippines–the initiator of the arbitration–the award will come a little too late. But, for Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ new president, who’s sent mixed signals on how he views the South China Sea, the PCA’s verdict will offer an immense foreign policy challenge. How Duterte steers the Philippines in the aftermath of the verdict, which is expected to widely go in Manila’s favor on most questions, will have immense importance.

The mid-July announcement will also bear on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which, as my colleague Prashanth Parameswarn has detailed over several reports, has proven unable to sustain consensus on the South China Sea disputes in the face of Chinese pressure. (See Prashanth’s reports here and here.) The Duterte administration will not only need to be prepared for China’s criticism of the PCA’s decision, but it will also need to take the initiative in ensuring that ASEAN pulls together after the embarrassing failure to proffer a consensus-based statement on the South China Sea at the recent special foreign ministers meeting near Kunming, China. (Readers may be interested in a recent podcast where Prashanth and I talk over the extent to which ASEAN consensus existed at Kunming.)

The July 12 timing of the verdict will give the Duterte administration and the nine other ASEAN governments to prepare for the upcoming 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Vientiane, Laos. Laos, the current ASEAN chair, has proven to be willing to acquiesce to Chinese pressure. Regional analysts fear a repeat of ASEAN’s disappointing 2012 summit in Cambodia, when the Cambodian government scuttled the issuance of a joint ASEAN statement after consultations in Phnom Penh (a first in ASEAN history). At the time, the Cambodian government–close to China and without a particular stake in the South China Sea disputes–wasn’t on board with the Philippines’ insistence that the 2012 stand-off with China over Scarborough Shoal be fully reflected in the statement. Unable to overcome the impasse, ASEAN issued no statement. Read more


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