So will the spat over the South China Sea be resolved in Phnom Penh or not? The bottomline: Asean and China are still trying to agree on the “elements” of a Code of Conduct. Apparently, Asean wants it to be binding (how we don’t know) and based on the UN Convention of Law of the Sea. Except that China’s claims will fail on this front, because its claiming practically everything while the limits placed by maritime law is much less, like 200 nautical miles from where ever each claimaint is.
The story so far:
The visitors have started arriving for the Asean open house, along with their spear carriers (delegation spokesmen) and gong-bangers (media). One suitor, China, has its spear carriers in over-drive. They have been sending missives to the media covering the open house – individual emails through the night. Whatever happened to data protection? How did they get all these emails? Never mind, any info is better than no info.
The missives are about the Chinese Foriegn minister meeting individual Asean releatives, from Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia. The Chinese have been very busy. More important missives are those to do with the main issue at hand: the South China Sea. It talks about settling things amicably, peacefully – very diplomatic stuff compared to what they are saying back in Beijing: Don’t hype it up! We shouldn’t even be talking about it at the meeting!
In the morning, banana cupcakes are running out as soon as they are laid on the reception table. The gong bangers are hungry. Hungry for information too. So they waylay the Asean secretary-general, forced him into a corner and made him give up what he knows about the South China Sea.
Turns out not very much. But as the foremost Asean elder, he makes nice-sounding noises about everybody “agreeing to move on” on the issue.
They also wanted to know about plans to make South east Asia a nuclear weapons free zone. Asean’s senior relatives had been quite certain that the five big powers would sign up for it – and had actually placed them as part of the open house programme. But four of the big visitors threw a spanner in the works, and said they had too many problems with it. Like the Russians: How do we defend our borders then? The UK even had a problem with the definition of a nuclear weapons free zone.
The Asean elder put his best face on: We’ll continue talking and we might just get everything signed in November when our clan leaders meet. He leaves. He and the senior relatives have a full day of meetings with the visitors, starting with the Australians and Japan.
Japan seems to be feeling a bit left out of the South China Sea conflict. It has a quarrel going on with China too, about islands that it wants to buy from the Chinese. The Chinese said no. So the Japanese want to hold a maritime summit, and get everybody who has a problem with China involved.
As the day moves on at a dreary pace, three-in-one coffee packets are being snapped up. The gong-bangers want to know what’s for lunch. Yesterday, it was hamburgers, the day before, spaghetti bolognaise that was so spicy, the Caucasians couldn’t swallow it.
Everybody’s waiting for the other big visitor, the US. The Americans have been sight-seeing in the region, and are coming in from Vietnam. They are more muted than before, and are not likely to bang drums like they did in Hanoi in 2010. They SAY they are more interested in trade and economics, and are bringing along their business people. The Asean relatives can expect them to bring some gifts.
The story continues…..