VCG/ Getty Images

A New Playbook for China and ASEAN

The ruling in The Hague against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea is a watershed moment for international law and an unmistakable warning to China about its strategic assertiveness in Southeast Asia. While China's leaders refuse to recognize the ruling, that doesn’t mean they are undisturbed by it.

KUALA LUMPUR – The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea is a watershed moment for international law and an unmistakable warning to China about its strategic assertiveness in Southeast Asia. China says that it does not recognize the PCA ruling; but that doesn’t mean it is undisturbed by it.

The question now is how China will respond. Will it change its often-aggressive behavior in the region, or will it continue to view the South China Sea mainly in terms of US-China competition? If China assumes that a war-weary and risk-averse US will avoid conflict, it could simply assert its South China Sea claims by force.

But belligerence could backfire in several ways. First, it would force the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to choose between China and the US, a decision that all of them would prefer to avoid. Whereas ASEAN member states – particularly the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia – generally have deep military ties with the US, they also value their economic ties with China. The reality is that ASEAN states could choose to become independent players, rather than pawns in the US-China competition, implying that it is in China’s interest to maintain ambiguity in US-ASEAN relations.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you are agreeing to our Terms and Conditions.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/UNBG69z;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.