Wednesday 21 October 2015

Seek positive result for all in South China Sea: DPM Teo

DPM Teo spells out three key pillars for stability, peace and growth in the Asia-Pacific
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

Countries with conflicting claims in the South China Sea should strive for a positive outcome for all rather than a zero-sum result, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said.

If they seek the latter outcome - where a gain for one side is a loss for another - these disputes that have made recent headlines will be difficult to solve, he added yesterday. They may lead to a negative outcome should conflict erupt or continuing tensions prevail.

"No one would be able to benefit from access to the potentially vast resources," Mr Teo said at a conference organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and United States think-tank The Brookings Institution.

"While sovereignty is non-divisible, resource sharing is infinitely divisible. Joint development of the rich resources would allow claimants to share the wealth of the sea."

This is not new, he noted. Agreements have been made for countries to jointly develop or explore natural resources in areas subject to overlapping claims. One example is in the Gulf of Thailand, which saw claims involving Malaysia and Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and Thailand.

Four Asean countries - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea with Beijing, whose activities in recent months have raised temperatures.

Yesterday's one-day conference was titled "South-east Asia and the United States: A Stable Foundation in an Uncertain Environment?".

In his speech, Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, spelt out three pillars of the regional architecture that were key to the Asia-Pacific's continued stability, peace and growth - trade and economic cooperation, defence and security links, and people-to-people ties.

Countries have become more interdependent through trade, and the number of regional trade agreements in the world has grown from some 70 in 1990 to more than 270 today.

The successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) covering 40 per cent of the world's gross domestic product looks set to be a game changer, Mr Teo said.

It is critical that the US Congress ratify the TPP to send a clear signal of America's continued presence and commitment to the region, he added, noting that China, too, has expressed hope that the TPP will "contribute to the development of trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific".

He said Singapore looks forward to the day China is ready to join the TPP, even as other regional pacts such as the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement and ongoing negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership bring trading partners and Beijing closer.

As for defence, Mr Teo saw room for cooperation in areas that affect not just individual countries but also the world, such as piracy, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

People-to-people links also help build greater understanding and trust, he said, adding that countries could work closer together in areas such as water conservation, sustainable agriculture and fire mitigation - on top of overseas internships and exchange programmes for students.

Mr Teo said all these links and interactions have to be consistent and enduring to have long-term impact. They also have to be based on international law and mutual respect for all countries, big and small, to have legitimacy and broad support.

Crucially, the regional architecture must remain open and inclusive with Asean at its centre, he added.

"The US has been an integral part of this regional architecture for the past 70 years. And we hope that the US will continue to be present in the region, as this will benefit the US, the region and the world," he said.

RSIS executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong said the US has played an indispensable role in the development of the region by opening its economy to Asian countries.

Brookings president Strobe Talbott said the fortunes and progress of South-east Asia are crucial to strengthening global governance, given Russia's regression towards the geopolitics of the past and Europe's current struggles.

"All eyes will be on Asean's success in forming an ever tighter community of nations... Asean can be an example of how to foster regional integration and cooperation," he said.

Countries in Asia will hedge their bets in an uncertain world, panellists say
By Charissa Yong and Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

Countries in Asia will not side with one great power or another all the time, regardless of the issue.

Rather, they will consider their own interests before deciding who to back, if at all, said panellists at a conference yesterday.

"We are not wedded to any one great power," said Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a deputy in Indonesia's vice-president's office.

"On particular issues, we can be closer with one country. On another issue, we can be closer with another country," she said.

"Having very, very close economic relations with China does not make us agree with China on its policy in the South China Sea. So it should not be seen as one or the other."

Smaller countries in East Asia simultaneously hedge their bets between the United States and China, "bandwagon" behind one on an issue while balancing against it on another because of the uncertainty of international politics, said Singapore Ambassador-at- Large Bilahari Kausikan.

"We see no contradiction in doing so," he added at the conference, "South-east Asia and the United States: A Stable Foundation in an Uncertain Environment?", jointly organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Brookings Institution, a think-tank in the US.

This uncertainty, Mr Kausikan said, could stem from how neither the US nor China "really knows what they want from each other", although they know they must work together or accommodate each other, he said.

Speakers added that this is compounded by the US and China competing for influence in East Asia and South-east Asia.

"Smaller countries respond to major power competition by taking a middle way between the two big powers," said political scientist Richard Hu from the University of Hong Kong.

Mr Kausikan said the US remains the clearly dominant superpower as China neither fully nor enthusiastically embraces its global responsibility.

But a lot of uncertainty has arisen from doubts about the role of the US in Asia, said Dr Richard Bush, director of Brookings' Centre for East Asia Policy Studies. "We have not done a good job managing the global economy," he said. "We have not been able to maintain and build our own strengths and this is a result of our dysfunctional political system."

China, meanwhile, is beefing up its maritime capacity in its quest to be a major naval power.

It has also developed new ideas and institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Economic Belt.

None of these involves Asean in a central role. But the 10-member grouping can stay in charge of its destiny in the region if it remains united, said observers.

"The division of South-east Asia will allow external powers to intervene," said Dr Dewi.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay said Asean members could build this unity by having candid conversations on regional issues.

But some participants felt Asean should be judged on its own merits, not by overly high standards.

Likening it to a cow rather than a horse, Mr Kausikan said: "It is utterly pointless to criticise a cow for being an imperfect horse. It is better to discuss how you can improve the breed of the cow."

China urged to review policy of not referring disputes to 3rd party
By Esther Teo China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2015

China should review its policy of not allowing disputes over territorial sovereignty to be referred to a third party, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh urged yesterday at a public forum here amid maritime disputes in the South China Sea that have soured ties between China and Asean.

Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo, weighing in on the issue at a separate forum, asked China to take a "big-hearted approach".

Speaking at the 10th China-Singapore Forum, Professor Koh said: "My plea to China is that it should reflect upon and reconsider its national policy that says (that with regard to) all disputes over territorial sovereignty, China will not agree to refer it to a third party. As long as it takes this position, it's impossible to settle these disputes by legal means."

This presents an obstacle to harmonious ties between China and Asean, he said, which had enjoyed good relations until 2009, when Beijing informed the United Nations that it had indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea.

Over at Peking University's North Pavilion Dialogue, Mr Yeo said: "Towards South-east Asia, because China is bigger and stronger, where there is room for manoeuvre, it is better for China to take a big-hearted approach." He added: "That will help China have good relations with the Philippines, Vietnam and Asean."

The dialogue is aimed at offering a platform for the frank exchange of views on security issues.

Recounting a trip to North Korea when he was foreign minister, Mr Yeo said he was told when travelling through the Chinese border town of Dandong that some of the islands in the Yalu River very close to the Chinese side belonged to North Korea.

"I was told by my guide that China gave them to the North Koreans on one condition, that the entire Yalu River is opened to navigation on both sides. So China, in return for open access to the Yalu River... took the generous approach," he said.

China claims up to 90 per cent of the South China Sea, also claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Both men's comments come as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to announce soon whether it has jurisdiction to rule on the Philippines' case against China's claims in the sea.

In his address, Prof Koh also said Asean recognises that a "deficit of trust" exists between many states in the region, which poses a threat to regional peace and stability.

"The reality is that there are many problems and we must recognise that they exist. It's Asean's mission to replace the current distrust with trust, suspicion with mutual confidence, and discomfort with comfort. We invite China to join us in this important task," he said.

Prof Koh also weighed in on the importance of the recently concluded 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Singapore. He said the successful negotiation of the deal is a vindication of what Singapore started in 2006 when it founded the TPP with Chile, New Zealand and Brunei as it sought to establish a paving stone that would lead to free trade in the Asia Pacific.

"And so the TPP is not inconsistent with the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) that China is pushing," he stressed, adding that China should look at joining the TPP. Beijing's proposal last November for the FTAAP involving 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members is widely seen as a counter to the US-led TPP. Prof Koh said the TPP is also beneficial to Singapore as it opens up the Mexico and Canada markets to exporters. Singapore has free trade pacts with all TPP members except these two.

While observers often focus on the state of US-China ties, Mr Yeo believes Sino-India ties are the ones to watch in the longer term. By 2050, India could be the world's third-largest economy, he noted.

"If India and China maintain good ties, automatically Asean will have good relations with both. And if you add up their populations, that's half the world. In other words... half the world will be stable and it'll be very good for the whole world."

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