ASEAN right not to hang on US' coattails
Updated: 2016-02-18 07:08
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang poses for a group photo with ASEAN members' leaders when the Joint Statement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Negotiations was released in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
The first ever US-ASEAN Summit hosted by the United States, which US President Barack Obama called "landmark", did not bear the fruit some had coveted.
The final joint statement did incorporate categorical calls for "peaceful resolution of disputes", "full respect for legal and diplomatic processes", and "freedom of navigation and overflight". But refrained from the kind of name-calling some in the gathering had desperately wanted.
Their fantasy of issuing a Washington-endorsed warning to Beijing turned out to be a mirage.
What actually happened at Rancho Mirage the past two days was in no way beyond anticipation. It was precisely what the participating parties should and have accomplished.
The US, particularly since Obama shifted the limelight to the "Pacific" aspect of its identity, has very high stakes in Southeast Asia. Obama sees very clearly that, in order to perpetuate its global dominance, his country can't afford to miss the fast train of growth on the other side of the Pacific. There is no blame attached to Washington wanting to enlarge its presence in the Asia-Pacific economic landscape.
ASEAN, on the other hand, can benefit from US advantages in technologies, funds and management expertise.
It should have been clear to all that taking sides between Beijing and Washington is a non-option for most ASEAN members.
It is thus more than natural for the two sides to establish a Strategic Partnership. Their trade and development partnerships are not only mutually beneficial, they are ultimately conducive to economic vibrancy in the entire region.
That is why Beijing has responded positively to Washington's engagement with the ASEAN. That is the kind of win-win scenarios Beijing wants to share with Washington, and any other interested parties.
Rancho Mirage was obviously not a suitable venue for talks about an absent third party, because, for one thing, the South China Sea issue is not an ASEAN priority. No matter how anxious Washington and Manila are to make a case, only a minority of ASEAN members are claimants in the disputes.
Not to mention that, their claims diverge, overlap, and contradict.
Not to mention that, Washington is actually not a disputing party, and freedom of navigation and overflight have never been an issue in the South China Sea.
It should be clear to all that taking sides between Beijing and Washington is not an option for most ASEAN members.
Considering its unrivalled influence in the region's security affairs, the US can be a big contributor to achieving peaceful resolutions to the disputes, if it chooses to act as a mediator.