Enmeshing the Dragon: limits of cooperation and regional institutions in Southeast Asia

No. 88 – September 201688.Report_Modoni_ASEAN

Author: Manuel Modoni
Language: English
ASEAN Regional Forum
ASEAN Plus Three
cooperative security
preventive diplomacy
Southeast Asia

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This paper will consider the role of Southeast Asian nations and their primary regional institutions (ASEAN, ARF and APT) in the struggle to relevantly contribute to regional security. Could the ASEAN Way assist in formulating an effective policy to face a rising China? It appears this is impossible, since the principles of non-interference, non-intervention and non-recourse of application of force in solving disputes are based on multilateralism and inclusiveness, consultation and consensus. Conversely, China tends to ignore ASEAN declarations and utilizes bilateral agreements that allow her the upper hand in the South China Sea disputes. The strategy of ‘omni-enmeshment’, which should bind China into a web of multilateral agreements, also fails as an effective regional security measure. With this denial, China is free to reject any ASEAN legal claims, initiatives and norms of conduct. Moreover, the United States appears uninterested in strengthening a multilateral system unable to deal with regional security, and for this reason Washington prefers to continue with bilateral diplomacy as well. What appears to be the core interest of ASEAN security, i.e. to keep the United States in and China down, clashes with national interests and the inability to build a coherent and unified diplomatic policy. China will not allow to weaker Southeast Asian states to be restrained by any effective mechanism of cooperative security, whilst the United States Navy will remain, in the near future, the only nautical bulwark between the ASEAN states and China.