Asean cop-out

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ONLY very few countries outside of the United States, the world’s only remaining superpower, get to parade an aircraft carrier.

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But the People’s Republic of China did strut its scientific stuff and awesome military might on Wednesday by launching a domestically built floating airfield.

Beijing has not yet publicly named the enormous warship but an online report said it would be named Shandong after China’s third wealthiest province as of 2014.

It actually has one other aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, but it was acquired from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China, a makeover job that must not have sat well with the overachieving mainlanders.

This week’s unveiling of the new aircraft carrier came at a time when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) was prepping up for a summit in Manila and when North Korea was on a war mode (again!) over a US-led rebuke of its nuclear program.

It apparently did ruffle the feathers of the Philippines in particular, even if only in the psychological sphere, at a time when Manila and Beijing — among a few other countries — are stridently disputing territories in the South China Sea, whose waters are claimed in their entirety by the Chinese government.

Apparently giving up on Beijing having the last word on the sea row, a draft declaration from the ongoing Asean Summit has skirted a 2016 ruling by a United Nations arbitral court, which favored Manila’s assertion that China cannot claim absolute ownership of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea to the Philippines, a variation that seems to spite China, at least in nomenclature).

The cop-out on the part of the regional bloc must have played right down the alley of the Trump administration that is livid at the recalcitrance of Pyongyang over Washington’s pledge on Thursday (local time) to step up sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime.

Only China can make the North Korean leader toe the line such that testing the mainland’s resolve to continue backing Pyongyang would be futile and any Asean declaration, especially where it concerns China and the South China Sea, would have to wait a long time.

Beijing knew that Washington had blinked on the North Korea stand-off, with the Trump administration embarking on a finessing mission that is evidently targeting the Asean.

A statement issued also last Wednesday by Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats read: “We are engaging members of the international community to increase pressure on [North Korea] in order to increase the regime to deescalate and return to the path of dialogue.”

The statement may be long on politesse but it succeeded in dampening a call made last week by the Group of Seven (G7), which is composed of the world’s top industrial nations — the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom — to implement the UN arbitral ruling.

The Asean — and China — instead opted for finishing a framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that they will have completed by Friday, April 28, the start of the Asean Summit.

Beijing had strongly resisted such a binding framework, as well as Manila’s objection to a bilateral dialogue over the UN ruling that was being pushed by China.

Not that the mainland has stopped throwing its weight around by agreeing to the COC framework because it just exercised the one-step backward, two-steps forward negotiating tactic that it has seemed to perfect over the centuries.

Over the long haul, the mainland can wait for the Philippines to keel over in insisting on the UN arbitral ruling, knowing that Asian countries seem bent on settling disputes through negotiations rather than the legal system.
China waited for 100 years to regain Hong Kong, making overcoming the Philippines’ intransigent stand on its claim to South China Sea waters a piece of cake.

Don’t worry, Beijing will surely volunteer to buy the candles.

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