The story continues….
The quarrelling among the Asean relatives continues and it’s got so bad that they can’t even agree on what to say in their farewell note. It’s the first time something like this has happened. The Cambodians who are leading this open house still don’t want to piss off the Chinese, while the Philippines still wants to tell the world about what happened in the South China Sea. The Indonesians have stepped in: Hey, hey, we’ve got to agree on something okay? At least to say we enjoyed the food…But no. They can’t even agree that they liked the food.
Funny how in the past, people have criticised the Asean clan for its farewell notes. They are bland, bland, bland. That’s because the family trys to come up with something everybody is comfortable with – and that means the language gets watered down just to satisfy the most unhappy member of the clan.
The sticking point is the South China Sea and how to manage the dispute over who owns what part. The Chinese want nearly all of that part of the world but Vietnam and the Philippines (as well as quieter members Malaysia and Brunei) don’t want to give up their parts. Vietnam has drawn up its own title deed allowing outsiders to come in and take a look at the oil down in the sea. The Philippines is upset at how their fishermen in their sampans keep bumping into the Chinese junks.
The Chinese aren’t budging at all. The area is theirs, they say. By ancient right, they say. We can talk about it, they say, but ultimately we have to talk about it one-on-one. We don’t like that Code telling us that if anyone doesn’t behave, we should go international and get others to decide over our property. Hey, we’re CHINESE!
The Americans are getting antsy, pulling aside the Chinese to talk to them. They are on the Asean side, or rather on the Philippines side:. Don’t try using force or threatening the poor little fellows ok? You’ve been scaring them, banning Philippines bananas and all that….And those boats of yours moving in the area, you say they are not navy but they might as well be…We know you’re a big boy but we’re bigger. Okay, a little bigger…We want the South China Sea open and we’re here to stay in Asia. So don’t try anything funny.
Both the Chinese and the Americans have been trying to reach the gong bangers. Of course, when their spear carriers talk to the media, everything looks cosy. The Americans even say the Chinese MIGHT consider sitting down with Asean to draft the code of conduct. They made it clear its a SMALL possibility though. What they call a “slight indication”. The Chinese told gong bangers they MIGHT sit down and talk, if the conditions are RIPE. In other words, they want to call the shots on when talks can start and exactly what should be talked about. You can bet that they don’t want anything said about settling the dispute written in, not if the method involves other big boys and that old grandfather, the UN.
The good news is that both big boys really want to be friends with Asean. They have to. Asean is getting richer, and countries like Myanmar are opening up. Their businessmen want in on the action. The Americans who didn’t use to care very much about the place have been watching the Chinese courting Asean over the years. The Chinese seem to have a head start, so the Americans must move in. And they are…with money – and aircraft carriers.
As if the Asean family doesn’t have enough trouble, another guest is knocking down tables and chairs in the house.
The Americans, South Koreans and Japanese had gone into the garden to have a little chit chat. That North Korea, the little fellow with the big guns, is making everyone uncomfortable. What if the crazy fellow starts shooting? The trio wants him to put down his guns, throw them in the dustbin. We’re gonna stop him if he starts shooting. Don’t he dare try….Of course the North Korean heard this. He lost his temper…and started swearing.
The Asean family still has some time to tidy up the house, sweep and mop and set the furniture right. Oh, is that a blood stain? They have to face the rest of the world when they leave the disaster zone with their bags. Doubtless, they will give plenty of verbs like resolve, support, consider, note, engage, enhance…and even progress and co-operation. It’s the Asean way – finding a way to save face. Maybe they will say it’s a miracle that everybody got together to sit and talk, that everyone was present, that it wasn’t a full-blown fight although voices were raised. Maybe that’s the extent of their achievement. Maybe they will even say: We are satisfied.
Stay tuned for the last instalment of Drama at the Asean House.