The Impact of South China Sea (SCS) Tensions on ASEAN: An “Eye-of-the-Beholder” Dilemma

An evaluation of the impact of SCS disputes on ASEAN at this critical juncture in its evolution depends, fundamentally, upon what one thinks ASEAN is all about. Individual ASEAN member-states adopted a charter in 2008 that lays out the organization’s formal objectives. A centerpiece is that ASEAN will become a single economic and political-security community. But leading experts still disagree on what ASEAN is and should be, what challenges the organization faces, and whether or not ASEAN can cope with or even survive them. Hence, it is best to assess the implications of the SCS tensions on ASEAN in the context of “eye-of-the-beholder” assessments of the organization’s purpose, challenges, and prospects.

This analysis argues that there are several reasons to question why the SCS disputes should be considered “central” to ASEAN or that ASEAN should have a unified position on the disputes. The fact that ASEAN failed for the first time in its history to issue a joint communiqué in 2012 due to disagreements on the SCS issue does not mean the issue has “centrality” to ASEAN or that ASEAN is a useless organization. However, there are also arguments for why ASEAN should be coherent and responsible regarding the SCS, and limited signs that it is increasingly becoming so. This balance is nuanced and subject to change given shifting and complex dynamics of the disputes themselves. But a more sustainable assessment of the impact for ASEAN of the SCS’s disputes can be made if one evaluates the main arguments about the purposes, challenges, and prospects of ASEAN.

Set against these arguments, the implications of the SCS disputes for ASEAN are very different. And there are some surprises, including the very low salience of the SCS issue in discussions about the future of ASEAN. If one takes the position that ASEAN should be what the charter lays out—a community—, then unity on the South China Sea is a logical objective. And yet, given the first-order challenges confronting the creation of a true ASEAN community, SCS disputes are the least of ASEAN’s community-building problems. If one thinks ASEAN should set its sights on simply sharing a diplomatic voice and facilitating cooperation among members and with external partners, then one would not worry too much about ASEAN’s “all-over-the-map” perspectives and actions on the SCS. Yet, these minimal goals would suggest more coherence on SCS disputes than has been shown to date, i.e., a truly “shared voice.”

There is a paradox: If one has big ambitions (a community) for ASEAN, then unity on this issue is a logical ultimate though not immediate goal; if one has minimal goals for ASEAN (a shared voice and cooperation), then unity on it does not matter much but does detract in a more visible way from the achievement of these goals. If one has a “middle-of-the-road” ambition for ASEAN, thinking of it first and foremost as a nation and state building project with adherence to lowest common denominator norms, incremental regionalism, and pragmatism, ASEAN’s position on the SCS is “Goldilocks right.” If one thinks ASEAN’s problems are mostly internal cohesion and capacity and not external relations, then SCS tensions are doubly problematic because they create complications for both external relations and cohesion and capacity.

Assessments of ASEAN’s Purpose, Challenges, and Prospects

As ASEAN approaches its close-of-2015 target date to become a single economic and political-security community, as well as its fiftieth anniversary in 2017, leading specialists agree that the organization representing ten diverse and mostly developing member countries faces important challenges. They disagree about the nature of these challenges, what to do to address them, and whether or not ASEAN can cope with or even survive the challenges.

For example, former Singapore diplomat Barry Desker argues that “ASEAN integration remains an illusion.”2 He bemoans the “codifying of existing norms instead of breaking new ground” when ASEAN adopted a legal charter in 2007, failure to take up “ground-breaking and innovative proposals for ASEAN integration” and reliance on “consensus decision-making, which resulted in a conservative, lowest common-denominator approach…[or] ‘ASEAN Way’ [that] has now become embedded in regional institutional structures and is an obstacle in community-building efforts.” Desker’s claim is that ASEAN has not gone as far as it could or should regarding either community building as laid out in the charter or economic integration.

Muthiah Alagappa, meanwhile, takes issue with ASEAN’s self-declared goal of community building itself, describing it as a “millstone” that cannot be achieved and should be “delicately sidestepped” in favor of concentrating on its core (though limited) competencies as an intergovernmental organization. He characterizes these competencies as “strengthening the diplomatic voice of ASEAN countries, legitimizing the Southeast Asian political map, facilitating bilateral and multilateral cooperation among member states in certain areas, enhancing security of member countries, and constructing orders in the regions.”3 His basic assessment is that ASEAN is first and foremost a tool for an unfinished nation and state-building project in Southeast Asia; not a community-building exercise in the true meaning of that phrase.

Singapore-based analyst Alan Chong, declaring that ASEAN’s “romance with nationalism and the nation-state is not over,”4 echoes Alagappa in the emphasis on ASEAN’s role in nation and state-building, but he also says that ASEAN has very basic normative agreements (“the ASEAN Way”), and member governments are pragmatic. Chong writes, “Treating Southeast Asian regionalism as a progressive trajectory needs to undergo a reality check…Southeast Asian regionalism is hemmed in by the politics of nationalism, the persistence of ASEAN’s normative frameworks, and pragmatism as a diplomatic virtue.”5

Amitav Acharya frames ASEAN’s contemporary problems in terms of the duality of external and internal issues. He writes that ASEAN’s challenges “have less to do with its external environment, such as great power policies and interactions [and] more [to do with] strains in ASEAN’s internal cohesion and capacity, especially owing to its expanded membership and agenda.”6 Acharya suggests “[t]o revitalize itself, ASEAN should perhaps do what a large corporation facing declining competitiveness and profitability does: downsize. Not in terms of its membership, or its staff, which are small anyway, but in terms of issue areas.”7 Leaving aside that ASEAN is nothing like a large corporation, a strategic restructuring to address largely external issue areas will do little to strengthen the organization if its fundamental problems derive from issues of “internal cohesion and capacity,” to which should be added commitment.

Striking among these select assessments of contemporary ASEAN is the paucity of reference to the impact of the SCS, despite the fact that though tensions including violent clashes have occurred regarding SCS claims for decades, since 2009 acute tensions have revived because of the overlapping claims amongst ASEAN, China, and even Taiwan. In the past twenty months or so, intense and expansive Chinese reclamation activity along with US statements and some activities (e.g., flying military aircraft near PRC reclamation projects) aimed at assuring freedom of air and sea navigation have brought real worries about the prospect of conflict. In expert assessments about ASEAN’s challenges and directions discussed above, the SCS is not seen as an especially critical challenge to the organization.

Alagappa does not refer to the SCS in his assessment at all. Desker, curiously, warns that the “ability of external parties to shape the positions of ASEAN members on regional issues such as the competing maritime claims in the SCS could undermine efforts to create an agreed ASEAN view”—rather than ASEAN’s own inability or unwillingness to create a unified position. Chong suggests that the SCS issue is used by regional states to harness nationalism and “it is probably healthy for the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea to remain as vague as possible in order that something of a lasting, albeit imperfect, peace can be obtained amongst the claimants.”8 In other words, ASEAN is handling the SCS consistent with its regionalist objectives and as its normative and pragmatic interests dictate.

Among these specialists, Acharya addresses the SCS issue most extensively, but downplays the threat to ASEAN. He writes: “The Chinese threat is only to the disputed offshore territories and waters of ASEAN members rather than to their metropolitan territory. China is not alone in the reclamation effort, and the talks to conclude a South China Sea code of conduct are proceeding, despite the delays and obstacles.” He also concludes that “[a]ny temptation [China] might harbor for creating a zone of exclusion the South China Sea or a sphere of influence over Southeast Asia would be met with stiff resistance” by the United States and other countries. He dismisses worry about the impact of SCS tensions on ASEAN. The surprising lack of salience of SCS disputes in consideration of ASEAN’s future may reflect a savvy assessment of reality: only the United States can (and ultimately will) defend the core goals of Southeast Asian states, which are not specific claims, but access to the global commons of and through the SCS.

Other analysts, however, have expressed considerable worry about ASEAN’s future in the light of SCS tensions. One Southeast Asia-based analyst claims that its failure regarding the SCS places in jeopardy “the credibility of ASEAN as an arbiter of peace in the region…[because] the regional body has yet to craft an optimal response.”9 Others lament its inability to “stand up to China.”10 An American specialist on Southeast Asia argues that “[t]he problem is that Southeast Asia’s traditional vehicle for collective action, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has proven irrelevant to the search for a solution [to South China Sea disputes]”11 and therefore “[i]t is high time for Washington to find new avenues of approach.”12

Criticism of ASEAN regarding its handling of the SCS comes amidst a larger analytical discourse and policy concern about the organization’s future. Commentators have also cited ASEAN’s recent handling of the outflow of Rohingya refugees13 and its limited progress towards an ASEAN economic community at the end of 2015 despite plans to declare one. How then should ASEAN’s handling of SCS disputes be viewed in the context of its other challenges? Is the ASEAN project on the eve of its declaration as a community imperiled by SCS tensions and its response to them?

Assessing the SCS’s Centrality to ASEAN

It is not immediately obvious why ASEAN should have a unified or coherent position on disputes in the SCS or why the disputes should have centrality to ASEAN as an organization. First, of the ten member countries, only four (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam) have claims to features in the SCS. These four in turn have, to a lesser or greater degree, overlapping claims with each other as well as with China—and Taiwan—that have not been resolved. Indonesia’s official position is that is not party to a territorial dispute in the SCS, but experts question that stance. SCS specialist Bill Hayton notes that the government of Indonesia’s official position is that it does not share a maritime boundary with China, but China appears to think it does.14 At a minimum, five ASEAN members including Cambodia, land-locked Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore (six if one accepts Indonesia’s position) have no claims to features in the SCS and, therefore, there are no disputes with Southeast Asian neighbors or with China and Taiwan on this score. Not having specific claims and disputes in the SCS does not preclude all Southeast Asian states having an interest in freedom of navigation and other public goods in the SCS, but, as noted earlier, this is not something ASEAN or members states individually can ensure.

Second, just as the disputes themselves do not implicate all ASEAN member-states, the combined “demography” of the claimants does not argue for the disputes being central to ASEAN either. Claimants account for about 36 percent of ASEAN’s population, 30 percent of its total GDP, just over 20 percent of ASEAN territory, and around 30 percent of ASEAN total military spending. Assessed in this admittedly narrow way, the “weight” of the SCS issue in ASEAN is not especially heavy.

A third reason why SCS disputes may have limited salience and centrality to ASEAN is that they implicate the organization only recently as the membership has expanded and the tensions have grown. Only two of ASEAN’s 1967 founding members (Malaysia and Philippines) have claims in the SCS, and Philippines tensions with China date back to the mid-1990s tensions about Mischief Reef (now controlled by China)—before the present ten-member ASEAN configuration. Vietnam’s violent clashes with China on the SCS go back almost four decades, long before it joined ASEAN in 1995. Brunei’s muted dispute is encompassed in ASEAN since it became a member in 1985. Thus, ASEAN as an organization has been fully and technically implicated in the full range of SCS disputes only recently.

A fourth argument against the “centrality” of the SCS for ASEAN is that none of the four Southeast Asia claimants who have overlapping claims to features and related EEZs have recognized each other’s claims; nor is there any agreement about claims or approach to de-conflicting the claims between ASEAN claimants and non-claimants. There has been some progress in the bilateral settlement of claims between Malaysia and Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Indonesia and the Philippines.15 Obviously, this both reflects and further undermines ASEAN unity and the centrality of the SCS issue. ASEAN is not alone in shirking from making determinations of sovereignty or declaring an approach to resolving conflicting claims. No country with the possible exception of China (and Taiwan) takes a position on ownership of all the South China Sea’s land features and accompanying EEZs, and all interested countries are experimenting with a variety of approaches to making, defending, and resolving claims and interests. Rear Admiral (ret) Michael McDevitt recently proposed a way for ASEAN claimants to reconcile with each other and present a common front to China. However, he concludes: “Given the very difficult compromises that Hanoi and Manila [being the two largest ASEAN claimants] would have to make in giving up portions of their claims, plus the uncertainty surrounding Beijing’s reaction, this modest proposal will likely never take place. It does, however, highlight the devilishly difficult problem of eliminating the Spratlys as a potential East Asian flashpoint.”16

Fifth, among the four South China Sea claimants, there is a complex rather than uniform degree of contestation with China. Of the four countries with overlapping claims with each other and with China, two, the Philippines and Vietnam, have been most overtly and directly engaged in disputes with China; and the Philippines with Taiwan, although diplomatic efforts have been underway to resolve this bilateral dispute. And yet there is irony in the fact that Vietnam, one of ASEAN’s newest members, has had the most intense tensions and clashes with China regarding the SCS, the most expansive claims vis-à-vis China and other ASEAN states, and yet has managed at least in recent years to keep its relations with Beijing on a manageable path (unlike in the Sino-Vietnam disputes in the 1970s and clashes in 1988). The other major ASEAN claimant, the Republic of the Philippines, has had significant tensions with China for two decades and has had much more difficulty in managing bilateral ties with China (and Taiwan) than Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei or even Japan and Taiwan—all of whom are pursuing a range of confidence-building and crisis-management mechanisms with Beijing despite serious ongoing tensions over claims in the South as well as East China seas.

Many cite the now infamous failure of ASEAN to issue in 2012 a post-summit joint communiqué as “proof” of the lack of ASEAN unity regarding SCS disputes. This assessment is incontrovertible; the questions it does not answer are why SCS disputes should have centrality to ASEAN and why ASEAN should be unified about them.

Assessing ASEAN’s Coherence vis-à-vis South China Sea Disputes

In light of explanations of why SCS disputes are not central to ASEAN and why there has not been a unified position regarding them, what countervailing factors argue for a coherent ASEAN interest and responsibility? What elements of coherence/unity characterize ASEAN’s position on the SCS? Is there any evidence that ASEAN coherence is increasing in this context?

First, previous acute tensions in the SCS between Vietnam and China and the Philippines and China occurred when ASEAN did not include all Southeast Asian parties in the disputes. With the 2008 adoption by all ten members of the ASEAN charter, there is now a legal rather than informal obligation to the ASEAN project. While the ASEAN charter says nothing specifically about the SCS, its legal entry into force does implicate and bind ASEAN at least formally, which partially explains why analysts and others at least expect ASEAN to have a common position.

Second, ASEAN as a whole is implicated in the SCS disputes because all member countries have signed the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DoC) and are negotiating parties to the Code of Conduct (CoC). ASEAN countries have been unified in insisting that China sincerely negotiate and implement a CoC even if they have disagreed on other elements of their respective approaches to the disputes. This concurrence amongst Southeast Asian claimants and non-claimants is the bedrock of “ASEAN’s approach” to the SCS despite the difficulties in realizing the objective—which stems more from Chinese resistance than ASEAN disunity.

Third, recent statements indicate slightly increased ASEAN “coherence” about SCS disputes at least in terms of concerns about China’s behavior. Notwithstanding the 2012 joint communiqué fiasco, the Twenty-sixth ASEAN Chairman’s Statement following the April 2015 summit in Malaysia notes “serious concerns expressed by some Leaders on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”17 A close reading of the statement would indicate that only some, not all, leaders expressed serious concern, and China was not mentioned by name. Still, this statement goes further than most recent ones and when combined with other indications (discussed below) suggest that the ASEAN position, if not unanimous, is getting more coherent and more explicit.

Fourth, a more difficult metric of ASEAN coherence is attitudes towards China in light of SCS tensions. With the exception of Malaysia (Brunei was not polled), claimant states do not view China favorably. Only 16 percent of Vietnamese and 38 percent of Filipinos regard China favorably in a 2014 poll; this rating would likely be even lower if taken today in the aftermath of a massive reclamation and construction program by China.18 While this poll does not account for attitudes towards China specifically regarding the SCS, it is quite likely that in such a poll Malaysian (and Indonesian) favorability ratings for China would decrease. Malaysia’s recent response to China’s activities in the SCS,19 Indonesia’s recent announcement of plans to build a military facility in the SCS,20 and earlier the its military chief’s unprecedented article in The Wall Street Journal criticizing Beijing21 attest to growing worry. These steps are not coordinated ASEAN positions, but they do reflect a trend that provides a basis for ASEAN unity of outlook, if not action.

Against such attitudes must be balanced the expressed interest of ASEAN claimants and non-claimants alike to continue cooperating with China in other areas. All ASEAN members, SCS claimants and non-claimants alike, for example, are founding members of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB).22 The implications for the United States are mixed. On the one hand, there is demonstrable and growing SCS claimant interest in military cooperation with it. On the other, neither ASEAN nor every claimant has signed up to all US approaches to SCS issues, e.g., for different reasons, some individual ASEAN members have rejected US freeze proposals in 2014; and ASEAN’s statement at the time simply “took note” of the US suggestion. More recently, US proposals for all countries engaged in reclamation and construction activities to cease and desist were met with a range of non-committal responses.

Fifth, there is evidence of rising interest among ASEAN members in region-wide cooperation. External countries have called for such cooperation. Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Robert Thomas was quoted as suggesting combined maritime patrols, though he acknowledged the constraints saying: “Perhaps easier said than done, from both a policy and organization perspective, such an initiative could help crystallize the operational objectives in the training events that ASEAN navies want to pursue.” He went on to say: “If ASEAN members were to take the lead in organizing something along those lines, trust me, the US Seventh Fleet would be ready to support.”23 Within ASEAN, there have been suggestions for cooperation such as a possible Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) among the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.24 However, it is highly unrealistic that ASEAN will take a unified military cooperation position on the SCS, and, if it did, its capacity to affect permanent outcomes would be minimal. It is likely that ASEAN and its member countries will remain security consumers rather than providers.


If one thinks ASEAN should be a true economic and political-security community as Desker suggests, than ASEAN should have a unified and far more robust approach to the SCS. The obstacles to such a vision of ASEAN community would be recognized as extending far beyond the inability or unwillingness to create a common position on South China Sea disputes. In contrast, one could seek a “lean ASEAN,” as does Muthiah Alagappa. He emphasizes core competencies, such as “strengthening the diplomatic voice of ASEAN countries, legitimizing the Southeast Asian political map, facilitating bilateral and multilateral cooperation among member states in certain areas, enhancing security of member countries, and constructing orders in the region.” In this vision, disagreement on the SCS would not be especially unexpected or worrying for ASEAN’s role, even if these competencies would demand ASEAN do more about the SCS.

There is a paradox: If one has big ambitions (a community) for ASEAN, than unity on the SCS is a logical ultimate goal, but the least of ASEAN’s problems; if one has minimal goals for ASEAN (a shared voice and cooperation) then unity on the sea does not much matter but does detract in a more visible way.

If one privileges ASEAN’s nationalist project and a mid-path commitment to regionalism, norms and pragmatism as does Chong, ASEAN has got its approach to the South China Sea “Goldilocks right.” The real irreconcilable of SCS tensions on ASEAN is if one assesses ASEAN’s real problems to be internal not external, as does Acharya. SCS tensions would seem to complicate this assessment as well as ASEAN’s external environment. Southeast Asia’s persistent quest for internationalization in the form of a balanced distribution of power is increasingly fraught as external powers, with the facilitation of specific ASEAN countries, create local imbalances. This encompasses proposals for intra-ASEAN coalitions. The net result is a more complicated “strategic exposure” for ASEAN as a whole. It does not matter whether the disputes are confined to metropolitan or offshore territory; contesting countries will seek military equipment and security commitments that make no distinction. Similarly, shared micro-aggressions regarding reclamation, domestic legal manipulations over claimed territory, and construction of military and other facilities do not impede the search for external balancers; though they cannot obscure the massive untenable macro-claims of China in the SCS.

Instead of serving as a platform to manage bilateral and multilateral cooperation among member states, ASEAN may become an arena where bilateral and multilateral cooperation are contested. As for internal cohesion and capacity challenges resulting from an expanded membership and agenda, these pale in comparison, as ASEAN member states and their external partners make a raft of diplomatic, economic, and security decisions that further undermine cohesion. It is, thus, not the expanded membership of ASEAN that undermines cohesion but the external environment while it simultaneously contributes to further asymmetries in capacities (e.g., economic and military ones) of specific countries. The net effect is to further perturb the internal cohesion and capacity, already sketchy, of ASEAN itself.

Beyond the “eye-of-the-beholder” dilemma for evaluating SCS tensions on ASEAN are other difficulties facing ASEAN. Generational change, increasingly contested political situations in countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, and increased diversity of regime types with the entry of communist and monarchical regimes into ASEAN over the past three decades have undermined rapport. Regime changes such as the transition to democracy in Indonesia pose fundamental questions for ASEAN’s future. Some argue that Indonesia, the most populous and most economically and militarily powerful Southeast Asian state, wishes to move beyond ASEAN—though Evelyn Goh makes a fine case that Indonesia may go beyond ASEAN centrality, but not ditch ASEAN.25 What are the implications if the dominant power of a regional organization decides to remove its ballast from the regional project? And one can only speculate what the implications of Myanmar’s first open elections as an ASEAN member will be.

Nor is it clear that China or ASEAN member countries will take the same positions towards the SCS in the years ahead that they have taken over the past few years. China also can turn on and off the tap of tensions in the SCS, as it has proved over the years. Its approach to the SCS is not the only initiative it is taking that challenges ASEAN coherence. The “One Belt, One Road” initiative is also seen as “splitting ASEAN between mainland and maritime SEA,” and Phoak Kung argues that some in ASEAN have warned their mainland counterparts “to be cautious, and not to be lured by China’s big money.”26

ASEAN member countries are themselves wary of being locked into a path of confrontation with China from which they will find it difficult to move.27 Even during the past 24 or so months of intense tension, the PRC’s approach has been multilayered. As Richard Heydarian noted at the start of 2015: “ASEAN has been rightly encouraged by the more conciliatory language emanating from China. Southeast Asian countries have been particularly encouraged by Xi’s decision to resume discussions over confidence-building measures (CBMs) with neighboring states such as Japan and Vietnam as well as the United States. The prospect of a China-ASEAN hotline and defense ministers’ dialogue has solicited praise and optimism across the region.”28 With leadership changes possibly upcoming in Vietnam and Malaysia, and elections coming in the Philippines, there may be adjustments in approach to the SCS. Ultimately, ASEAN’s position on the SCS tensions may matter less compared to the fundamental challenge that all members states, as security consumers rather than providers, have to address: China’s intentions, US commitments, and their own navigation between them. SCS tensions will not go away any time soon, but the newest and, perhaps, weakest tool to deal with them, ASEAN, is neither the problem not the solution.


1. The views expressed here are entirely personal. Satu Limaye gratefully acknowledges the research assistance of Neil Datar and Clarence Cabanero.

2. Barry Desker, “ASEAN Integration Remains an Illusion,” PacNet, no. 17, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 16, 2015,

3. Muthiah Alagappa, “Community Building: ASEAN’s Millstone?” PacNet, no. 18, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 19, 2015,

4. Alan Chong, “The State of Regional Community in the Southeast Asian Region: Community Hemmed in between Politics of Nationalism, ASEAN Norms and Pragmatism,”

5. Ibid.

6. Amitav Acharya, “Doomed by Dialogue? Will ASEAN Survive Great Power Rivalry in Asia,” The Asan Forum 3, no. 3,

7. Ibid.

8. Alan Chong, “The State of Regional Community in the Southeast Asian Region.”

9. Richard Heydarian, “Face-Off: China vs. ASEAN in the South China Sea and Beyond,” The National Interest, January 9, 2015, .

10. Amanda Conklin, “Why ASEAN Can’t Stand Up to China,” The National Interest, July 1, 2015,

11. Walter Lohman, “Why US Should Move Beyond ASEAN in South China Sea,” Nikkei Asian Review, March 9, 2015,

12. Ibid.

13. Michael Auslin, “The Rohingyan Crisis and ASEAN Disunity,” The Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2015,

14.See Bill Hayton, “Inside China’s ‘Historic Claim’ to the South China Sea,” Strategic Review, July-September 2015,

15.The author thanks Professor Pek Koon Heng for this point.

16.Michael McDevitt, “A Modest Proposal to Help ASEAN Reconcile Their Overlapping Claims in the Spratlys,” PacNet, no. 40, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 9, 2015,

17.“Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” Chairman’s Statement of the 26th ASEAN Summit, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, April 27, 2015,

18.“How Asians View Each Other,” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 14, 2014)

19.Prashanth Parameswaran, “Malaysia Responds to China’s South China Sea Intrusion,” The Diplomat, June 9, 2015,

20.Zachary Keck, “Indonesia is Building a New Military Base in the South China Sea,” The National Interest, July 10, 2015,

21.Moeldoko, Commander in Chief of Indonesia’s Armed Forces, “China’s Dismaying New Claims in the South China Sea,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2014,


23.See Sharon Chen, “U.S. Navy Urges Southeast Asian Patrols of South China Sea,” Bloomberg Business, March 17, 2015, In the same article, leading analysts assessed the prospects as very low given technical, let alone political, problems.

24.Rene P. Acosta, “In Lieu of a Binding Code in the South China Sea, a VFA for ASEAN,” July 1, 2015,

25.See Evelyn Goh, “Going it Alone,” New Mandala, July 3, 2015,

26.Phoak Kung, “Is China a Threat to ASEAN’s Unity?” East Asia Forum, June 3, 2015,

27.A reflection of this argument is “Rather than accusing one another of not standing up to China, ASEAN members should take bold steps to address the underlying causes that make most of them too dependent on major powers, not just China but also the United States. Of course, this is by no means suggesting that they must stay away from the two most powerful countries in the Asia Pacific, far from it. The question is how they can create a genuine balance between them that would ensure regional stability and peace.” Ibid.

28.Richard Heydarian, “Face-Off.”