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Scholars discuss ASEAN’s role in East Vietnam Sea situation

Thursday, September 01, 2016, 14:28 GMT+7

The East Vietnam Sea situation was a hot topic at a conference organized by the Korean Association of Southeast Asian Studies (KASEAS).

Nearly 50 academics, scientists, and diplomats from South Korea and Southeast Asian nations gathered at Songan University in the East Asian nation for a discussion about the role of ASEAN in regional issues, especially the East Vietnam Sea.

ASEAN is short for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic organization whose members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

According to Professor Cheng-Chwee Kuik from the National University of Malaysia, disputes in the East Vietnam Sea have seriously affected the central role of the group and its aim of regional cooperation.

The United States and China have been expediting economic proposals to elevate their influence on the maritime area, Prof. Kuik continued.

Several major projects have been carried out by the two powers in an effort to turn geo-economic advantages into long-run geo-political strength, the intellectual elaborated.

The short-term perspective, according to Irene Chan, a Singaporean academic, is that cooperation between ASEAN and China would help consolidate the primary role of the organization.

Dr. Lee Jaehyon from South Korea’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies backed the opinion by stating that the collaboration would be favorable for improving infrastructure in ASEAN member nations.

China boosting its influence could also stir up competition from other powers like Japan, providing policy ‘leverage’ for the member states to boost socio-economic development, Dr. Lee added.

In the long run, the connection between ASEAN and China could pose many obstacles for the former, once Chinese influence on the region is enhanced. 

For example, unity within the grouping could be jeopardized as member states fall into the sphere of China’s diplomatic influence after receiving support from the massive country.

Herman Kraft and Kim Hyung Jong, scholars from the Philippines and South Korea, shared the similar idea that ASEAN could potentially collapse under pressure from the various disputes in the East Vietnam Sea.

While ASEAN member countries may still hold close ties in economic matters, the organization could potentially lose a controlling role when it comes to sensitive issues relating to regional security, they explained.

Kraft stressed that the confrontation between powers in the East Vietnam Sea could lead to political escalation, creating heavy pressure on ASEAN in the near future.

According to Prof. Kuik, any action from more powerful nations could have significant impacts on ASEAN institutions.

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