South China Sea Tension Shadows ASEAN Summit

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Following the contentious situation in the South China Sea, the Philippines has declared its commitment to upholding the “rules-based international order.”[1] The Philippines has also stated that it will raise this issue during the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Prior to his participation in the 43rd ASEAN Summit, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized in a statement, “Our participation will highlight our advocacies such as promoting the rules-based international order, enhancing food security, and advocating for climate justice, including the South China Sea and beyond.” [2]

On September 1 2023, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will attend the ASEAN Summit scheduled for September 5-7, 2023, in Jakarta. It was later announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be attending the summit this year. [3]

The current chair of the regional bloc consisting of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, has conducted discussions aimed at enhancing and strengthening cooperation between the bloc and its partners. The issue of regional peace and the political violence in Myanmar under military rule has been one of the most important items on the agenda. [4]

Many ASEAN countries are experiencing maritime disputes with Beijing in the resource-rich South China Sea. China’s sovereignty claims covering this region and the presence of an estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the sea have also unsettled Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, all of whom assert their rights in the area. [5]

China claims that, according to international law, foreign military forces cannot engage in activities such as intelligence gathering within its Exclusive Economic Zone. [6] According to the United States (US), claimant countries, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), have the right to freely navigate in the Exclusive Economic Zone at sea and are not obligated to notify claimants of their military activities In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rendered a decision on a claim brought by the Philippines against China under UNCLOS. In some aspects of the case, decisions were made in favor of the Philippines. However, China did not accept the court’s jurisdiction in the matter

It can be said that China has increased its activity in the South China Sea in recent years.[7] In order to protect its political, security, and economic interests in the region, the United States has countered China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea by conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and providing support to its Southeast Asian partners Additionally, in response to China’s assertive presence in the disputed area, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam have sought to enhance their maritime security capabilities and build deterrence by purchasing military vessels and equipment.[8]

Throughout history, the United States has safeguarded its interests by ensuring freedom of navigation and securing maritime communication lines. In this regard, it supports binding legal agreements and other confidence-building measures. The U.S. plays a role in preventing military escalation that could arise from territorial disputes. Washington’s defense agreements with the Philippines could potentially draw the U.S. into a China-Philippines conflict over significant natural gas deposits or lucrative fishing grounds in the disputed region in the future. The failure of China and Southeast Asian leaders to resolve disputes through diplomatic means may weaken international law regulating maritime disputes and encourage destabilizing arms races in Southeast Asia

[1] “Philippines, US Navies Conduct Joint Sail in South China Sea”, Channel News Asia,, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[2] “At ASEAN, Philippines to Advocate For ‘Rules-Based Order’ In South China Sea”, Anadolu Agency,, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[3] “Prime Minister Li to Represent China in 43rd ASEAN Summit in Xi Jinping’s Absence”, TEMPO,, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[4] Same place

[5] “Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea”, Global Conflict Tracker,, (Erişim Tarihi: 05.09.2023).

[6] Ronald O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service, U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress, R42784, Haziran, 2023, s.1.

[7] Aynı yer.

[8] Eleanor Freund, Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea: A Practical Guide, Cambridge, Haziran 2017, s.1.

Zeynep Çağla ERİN
Zeynep Çağla Erin, 2020 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden "Feminist Perspective of Turkish Modernization” başlıklı bitirme teziyle ve 2020 yılında da İstanbul Üniversitesi Açık Öğretim Fakültesi Sosyoloji bölümünden mezun olmuştur. 2023 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim dalında "Güney Kore'nin Dış Politika Kimliği: Küreselleşme, Milliyetçilik ve Kültürel Kamu Diplomasisi Üzerine Eleştirel Yaklaşımlar” başlıklı yüksek lisans tezini tamamlayarak mezun olmuştur. Şu an Kocaeli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim dalında doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. ANKASAM stajyeri olarak çalışan Erin'in başlıca ilgi alanları; Asya-Pasifik, Uluslararası İlişkiler'de Eleştirel Teoriler ve Kamu Diplomasisi'dir. Erin iyi derecede İngilizce ve başlangıç seviyesi Korece bilmektedir.