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China’s provocative behavior glooms regional integration

VGP – East Asia is working on a regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP) that many eagerly hope that it will be a chance for consolidating regional peace and security as the foundations for further regional integration.

May 27, 2014 3:44 PM GMT+7

The hope is so earnest because in the 20th century, Southeast Asia in particular and the Asia-Pacific in general were once fierce battlefields and deeply divided for decades. The past was so painful.

The present is quite optimistic as according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (2008), “Asia’s economies are increasingly vital to each other and to the world. Asia’s output today roughly equals that of Europe or North America, and may well be 50% larger than theirs by 2020, in terms of purchasing power parity.” Moreover, with both the US and Europe continuing to post low GDP growth of 1% to 2.5% annually, the center of the recovery has shifted to Asia. These factors became apparent during the November 2012 ASEAN summit, when Asia saw two different approaches to trade liberalization.

One of the approaches is the RCEP between ASEAN and its partners—Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. It is envisaged to be a high-quality and mutually-beneficial economic partnership agreement that will broaden and deepen the current FTA engagements.

Things, however, have changed quickly after China illegally moved its oil rig into Viet Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, causing the tension to escalate to the level that the international community has to express their grave concern and blame China for its provocative attitude.

Recently, the South China Morning Post ran an article of Philip Bowring, a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator, saying that China’s current behavior in the East Viet Nam sea is “aggressive, arrogant and smacks of Han chauvinism and ethnocentrism.”

Not only has Beijing bared expansionist teeth to Viet Nam and the Philippines, it has now succeeded in shifting Indonesia from a position of trying to act as a moderator between China and the other claimants to opponent, according to Philip Bowring.

He said that patriotic Hongkongers should recognize China’s behavior for what it is: “a dangerous ploy”.

Many experts also expressed their serious concern over the China’s illegal placement of the oil rig in Viet Nam’s waters. Prof. Carl Thayer, an expert on the East Sea for the Australian Defense Force Academy, said that China’s actions, which were unexpected, provocative and illegal, have revived fears of the “China threat”.

He described China’s move as a seriously provocative act, as more than 70 vessels, including naval ones, escorted the rig.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ernest Bauer from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that China’s unilateral act violates the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and runs counter to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) signed by China and ASEAN countries in 2002.

The China’s move also sparked grave concern from countries and organizations around the world. During the 24th ASEAN Summit recently, three important documents covered the East Sea issue. Particularly, ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a stand-alone statement on a complicated situation threatening peace, maritime security and safety in the East Sea.

The UK Government on May 12 declared its backing for the European Union’s statement on the tension in the East Sea and raised the issue with the Chinese Government.

Earlier on May 8, the statement released by the Spokesperson of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said “The EU is concerned that unilateral actions could affect the security environment in the region, as evidenced by reports about the recent collision of Vietnamese and Chinese vessels.”

Several other countries and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have also raised their concern over escalating tensions in the East Sea and no country in the world has voiced support for China’s move.

Why a big power like China, the second biggest economy in the world, acts in such a way that other countries and experts labeled such words like “provocative”, “arrogant” and “dangerous”.

Mr. Ezequiel Ramoneda, Coordinator at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Institute of International Relations, La Plata National University, Argentina, explained that China’s move was driven by political motive and aimed at baring its power. China moved the oil rig into Viet Nam’s waters ahead of the 24th ASEAN Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on May 10-11 and just some days after US President Barack Obama’s Asia tour.

Should a big country like China, a member of the United Nations Security Council, has to show who is the boss to its neighbors in the context of increasing regional integration?

The future of dynamic integration in East Asia is now much questionable, RCEP is likely to be put on the shelf and peoples have to wait a long time to enjoy benefits from regional integration if tension in the East Sea continues to rise without permanent resolution. If "anti-China" sentiment dominates the region, how can the region promote true partnership to bring good fruits to their ordinary residents who do not expect tensions or wars.

It seems that China is standing out of the common track or it forgets its bigger responsibility as a member of the United Nations Security Council and as a power in the region where peace and security are the common goals and perquisites for regional integration./.

By Hai Minh