ASEAN and the South China Sea
    Category: Column By : Jusuf Wanandi Read : 1021 Date : Sunday, May 04, 2014 - 16:49:58

    The shock of failing to produce a joint communique at the end of the ASEAN Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 was real. This kind of failure has never happened in the 45 years since ASEAN’s inception. Questions abounded whether there was a crack in ASEAN’s unity.

    More than ever the importance of ASEAN’s role in creating a regional order in the South China Sea has been raised by both China and ASEAN itself. Both should do their utmost to find a solution towards creating a regional order where crisis management and prevention can be handled. Therefore, the Declaration of Conduct (DoC) in 2002 and the prospective Code of Conduct (CoC) for the South China Sea should be pursued and implemented as soon as possible, and made the centerpiece of regional order. In this respect, Indonesia’s role is critical. 

    Indonesia has long been committed to creating a regional order in Southeast Asia and done much to achieve that. Among other things, Indonesia has convened workshop series on South China Sea that have run for over two decades, to show China the importance of such an order. It wants to maintain its neutrality over the issue while having good relations with both China and the U.S., and also keeping its leading position in ASEAN.

    Indonesia would like Southeast Asia to be free and independent from great powers dominance as laid down in the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) doctrine. With regional order ASEAN can guarantee peace, stability and development in Southeast Asia and great powers conflict can be prevented.

    Indonesia is making the effort because it believes in a regional solution. If needed, international support can be sought through the U.N. Perm-5. 

    An example is the Cambodian conflict in the 1980s. Indonesia first initiated the Jakarta Informal Meeting followed by the Paris Conference, where the Perm-5 supported the conflict’s settlement. The South China Sea issue is not easy to resolve. Both the CoC and DoC should be implemented together as the bases for a regional order in the South China Sea, and for that China has to cooperate with ASEAN (and Indonesia) together. This cooperation is imperative lest other powers take initiatives and create instead division among ASEAN, preventing the establishment of a regional order. Once the CoC is established, it should be opened to other powers.

    The question whether Indonesia can get ASEAN together to support such a regional order on the South China Sea through a CoC agreement with China is a fair one after Phnom Penh. If ASEAN cannot get its act together, it will lose credibility, especially on issues such as the ASEAN economic community coming in 2015. China should foster ASEAN’s unity and not polarize it. The three meetings of the Joint Working Group of the Senior Official Meeting since last year between China and ASEAN with some discussion of how to move forward the CoC and the implementation of DoC. The Eminent and Expert Group (EPEG) will soon be established and in the meantime initiatives to improve cooperation among all thinktanks have been taken.