World needs to act against growing Chinese influence in Indo-Pac region

One can't help but wonder which country is wearing coloured glasses in international relations, especially in how it imposes its disagreements on its neighbours.

Australia is now at the receiving end of Chinese bully tactics that echo its economic reprisals against South Korea for installing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system to fend off North Korea's missile threats.

But when China militarises disputed islands in the South China Sea, no one is to overreact against its right to self-determination.

What right to self-determination and national sovereignty - especially over a body of disputed reefs that was categorically dismissed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in 2016?

China is, of course, free to dispute this decision with a legal response.

Instead, it chose to persist with its unilateral annexation, destruction, and militarisation of our global commons with land reclamation, even as it warned others against disturbing the so-called "peace and calm" that it has imposed on its neighbours.

The freedom of the South China Sea is not just a matter of concern for countries in the region, but the whole world, given the trillions worth of trade that passes through these international waters.

It is time for Asean to take a principled stand on the matter and put its negotiation for a code of conduct in the South China Sea with China on ice until the country demilitarises and withdraws from those islands.

The regional body should also work with all like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific region to raise this violation of a multilateral rules-based order at the United Nations for wider discussion.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'World needs to act against growing Chinese influence in Indo-Pac region'. Print Edition | Subscribe