Diplomats voice concern over China's 'bid to divide Asean'

Singapore's ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan addresses issues surrounding Asean's delicate ties with the United States and China, amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea.
Singapore's ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan addresses issues surrounding Asean's delicate ties with the United States and China, amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

China's divisive influence in Asean was the focus of a conference in Jakarta yesterday, with three veteran diplomats voicing their concerns about it.

Among them was former Asean secretary-general and Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong, who criticised China's consensus with Asean states Cambodia, Laos and Brunei on the South China Sea, announced last Saturday, as tantamount to Beijing's interference in the internal affairs of the 10-nation grouping.

Mr Bilahari Kausikan, policy adviser to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the consensus can be seen as a means to divide Asean ahead of an international ruling on a petition against China's claims in the South China Sea brought by the Philippines.

He also warned that China's growing influence on mainland South-east Asia could have even wider geopolitical implications for the grouping. He said growing economic ties between the two sides were binding them together in one economic space. "That will have an impact on how some Asean member states calculate their interests."

Former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda said he was concerned that Asean "is unable to cope with the increasing tensions, or peacefully resolve the disputes and situations in question".

But Mr Ong said Singapore as coordinator for the Asean-China partnership would try its best to maintain the Asean position.

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China criticised for apparent attempt to divide Asean

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Diplomats voice concern over China's 'bid to divide Asean''. Print Edition | Subscribe