US Tensions could undermine Asia as engine in global recovery
BEIJING - The United States will emphasise the importance of easing friction over competing claims in the South China Sea during regional talks in Cambodia next week, a US government official said Saturday.
The talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and regional powers including China will be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the South China Sea likely to be high on the agenda.
Tensions have risen recently over territorial claims in the resource-rich waters amid a standoff between China and the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal and between China and Vietnam over the Spratly and Paracel islands.
All parties must realize that "there is an enormous potential for developments that undermine the very confidence on which Asia prosperity is built", a US government official told reporters in Beijing.
"With the slowdown in Europe and some uncertainties on the recovery in the United States, it's clear that role of Asia is central," he added.
"The South China Sea issues are complicated by the fact that they stir intense nationalist sentiment in all of the countries involved."
Clinton, who paid an unannounced visit to Kabul Saturday, will attend a major development conference for Afghanistan in Japan Sunday, before travelling to Mongolia, Vietnam and Laos ahead of the talks in Cambodia.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.
Last edited by exckel; 9th Jul 2012 at 16:29.
Philippine Air Force to get new warplanes by 2014
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines, which is now embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, is set to acquire new warplanes in two years to upgrade its poorly-equipped air force, the defense chief said Friday.
Attack aircraft, lead-in fighter-trainers, attack helicopters and light and medium transport aircraft were all expected to be delivered within two years, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
Speaking at the 65th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force, Gazmin said "these aircraft shall once and for all, erase the ironic and naughty commentary that our present airforce is all air, devoid of force."
The defense department also plans to sign contracts by July 31 to implement 138 military modernization projects over the next five years, he added, without saying how much the contracts would cost or who would supply such equipment.
The Philippines has one of the most poorly-equipped militaries in the region, having retired the last of its fighter jets in 2005.
The weakness of the military was highlighted when the Philippines got into a standoff with China in April over the Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping of rocks in the South China Sea that both countries claim as their territory.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
The two countries also have wider territorial disputes over parts of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
Gazmin did not mention the territorial dispute but stressed that air force personnel were all over the archipelago, including the West Philippine Sea – the local term for the South China Sea.
The Philippines has looked to its main defense ally, the United States, to help it upgrade its armed forces but President Benigno Aquino III said in an interview in May, that it was looking for aircraft from outside the US as well.
Last edited by exckel; 9th Jul 2012 at 16:29.
Re: [UPDATED]News updates about China and Philippines with Pictures
The Philippine government's plan to settle its territorial claims over the Scarborough Shoal with China using the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) may not work because the treaty does not contain provisions "on how to decide the competing sovereignty claims in the West Philippine Sea," said an expert on international law.
"The law of the sea convention proceeds from a premise that sovereignty is not in dispute, so you can't use the convention to justify your claims, you have to go elsewhere," Dr. Lowell Bautista, research fellow of the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, told Interaksyon.com at the sidelines of a forum organized by the Ateneo de Manila School of Law in Makati.
Bautista added that while the UNCLOS has a compulsory settlement provision that mandates parties to peacefully negotiate disputes, it also has Clause 298 that allows a party to "opt out" from mandatory settlement.
The UNCLOS may still be helpful to address the dispute in "some" aspects, he said. What the Philippines and China can do, according to him, is resort to adjudication and arbitration by going to international tribunals like the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
"Depending on how you craft the legal question, that will determine which forum you will bring (your case)," he said. Bautista then added that "something exciting" is in the offing in the legal front concerning the Philippines’ claims on the disputed territory.
Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the UNCLOS, an internationally binding instrument that lays down the most comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas. It defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
The Philippines signed the Convention on December 10, 1982 and ratified it on May 8, 1984. The UNCLOS became effective on November 6, 1994.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said it is exploring all legal aspects to the country’s territorial claims on Scarborough Shoal, which is located 124 kilometers off Masinloc, Zambales. The dispute resurfaced in April after the Philippine authorities arrested some Chinese fishermen caught fishing at the shoal.
The Philippines also accused China of erecting barriers along the shoal, and of illegal fishing.
China maintains its disagreement with settling its territorial issues using UNCLOS or in any international tribunal. It said that the dispute may only be resolved through direct negotiations direct negotiations between concerned parties. Aside from the shoal, the Philippines and China - along with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan - are also claiming parts of the South Chinas Sea.
Use 'quiet diplomacy' in territorial dispute with China - Joker
MANILA - The Philippine government should use “quiet diplomacy” in its territorial dispute with China, Senator Joker Arroyo said Sunday.
Quiet diplomacy, he said, is about resorting to informal backchannels using emissaries who have connections to Chinese leaders, and not make public the ugly discussions but only positive developments.
“This is a sensitive issue,” Arroyo said in his interview over dzBB. A quiet diplomacy “would avoid embarrassing anyone…We will not lose anything.”
He advised the “know-it-alls” in government to stop using “harsh words” when talking about the issue in public, and this would require “discipline” from the President and the President’s men.
In his time as executive secretary of President Corazon Aquino, he said it would only take one phone call to put a Cabinet member in place “for talking out of turn” on such a sensitive topic.
He said President Benigno Aquino III’s pronouncement of de-escalation and keeping quiet about the issue is a step in the right direction.
Chinese media noted that Aquino’s statement saying the Philippines will allow the use of US spy planes naturally increases tension in the area.
Arroyo said the Philippines should “realize our limitations” because we “cannot win in an arms race with China.”
“Gusto mo ba arms race with China (Do we want an arms race with China)? How can we succeed?” he asked.
“We should know our limitations, our capabilities,” he added, noting that the Vice President of China, who is set to take over the helm of the government later this year, has alreaady spoken that China does not want an escalation in the region.
‘US will not jeopardize relations with China’
At the same time, Arroyo said the Philippines cannot expect the United States to go to war with China over this dispute. He said the US won’t sacrifice its interest for the Philippines when US-Philippine trade volume is “not 1 percent of” US-China trade volume.
“Bakit sisirain ng Amerika ang relasyon nya sa China (Why would the US break off its relations with China)? They have a mutual need not to escalate the problem. Gusto nila ang comercio (They want trade),” he said.
“US cannot antagonize China. We cannot expect them to be at war with each other. We cannot expect America to come to our aid,” he added.
Citing its pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan and its refusal to go into Syria, Arroyo said the US is war-weary.
ASEAN is in a similar bind, Arroyo said. “ASEAN (member-countries) don’t want to make a statement supporting (the Philippines on the Scarborough standoff). They have their own problems with China. Why would they jeopardize their relations with China over the Philippines?” he asked.
Re: [UPDATED]News updates about China and Philippines with Pictures
MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.) A Chinese patrol team on Sunday returned to Guangzhou after traveling 2,800 nautical miles across the South China Sea to carry out “regular observation and patrol operations” of its claimed territory, including the disputed Spratlys and Macclesfield Islands, Chinese state media Xinhua said.
The team, consisting of four China Marine Surveillance ships, patrolled dozens of islets and reefs in the South China Sea.
According to Xinhua, the patrol team also conducted a formation practice near the Nansha (Spratlys, which is all or partially claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines) and Zhongsha (Macclesfield, which is all or partially claimed by Vietnam) Islands in adverse weather conditions.
It arrived in the Spratlys last Sunday, July 1, and left a week after on July 8.
“The vessels reached as far as 47.5 degrees north latitude and 108.35 degrees east longitude since its departure from south China's coastal city of Sanya on June 26,” said Wang Yun, captain of Haijian 83, from which the Xinhua crew reported.
The China Marine Surveillance ships are under the administration of the State Oceanic Administration, and are not the country’s navy. They have performed regular patrols and law-enforcement activities in waters under China's jurisdiction since 2006.
When this patrol near the disputed Spratlys, the Philippine government had said that it would raise the issue with the Chinese government.
The patrol deepened the row with Vietnam and the Philippines.
Last month, China summoned Vietnam's ambassador in Beijing and protested a law adopted by the Vietnamese parliament that places the disputed Spratly islands under Hanoi's sovereignty.
China and Vietnam, as well as other neighboring nations, are locked in long-standing territorial disputes over the South China Sea, including the resources-rich Spratly and Paracel islands.
Tensions in the South China Sea have risen sharply recently, with China and the Philippines also locked in a maritime dispute over Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippine coast.
Last Thursday, China said it would resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters and protect its sovereignty -- remarks which appeared to be directed partly at Vietnam and the Philippines.
China's military has established routine naval patrols in the South China Sea as a matter of "national sovereignty," defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.
"The determination and will of China's military to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering," he said.
China said last month it had elevated the administrative status of what it calls the Nansha (Spratly) and Xisha (Paracel) islands from a county to a prefectural-level district.
China's state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corp. has also called for tenders from foreign companies to explore for oil in the South China Sea near Vietnam, a move Hanoi deemed "illegal."
ASEAN to start negotiations with China on Code of Conduct in South China Sea
MANILA - As China warned Southeast Asian nations against “hyping” the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said there has been “a meeting of minds” among the ASEAN senior officials on the proposed main elements of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and ASEAN will soon start negotiations with China on these elements.
Without identifying the elements of the proposed Code, del Rosario would only say that “for archipelagic states like the Philippines, unimpeded commerce and maritime safety are important given that a quarter of the estimated 1.37 million mariners worldwide are Filipinos.”
At the same time, the Philippines’ top diplomat has called for the “effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the “eventual realization of a credible, binding, and enforceable regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”
ASEAN member-nations and China are signatories to the DOC, a non-binding document that, among others, enjoins the signatories “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
The Declaration also enjoins the parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
In previous press conferences in the Philippines, del Rosario had said the incursions of Chinese ships into Philippine territory constitute a violation of the Declaration.
Speaking at the meeting between ASEAN foreign ministers and the foreign ministers of China, Japan, and Korea in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 10, del Rosario said these goals on the Declaration and the Code are part of the region’s collective goal of enhancing maritime cooperation.
Citing the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Work Plan for 2007 to 2017, he told his international peers that the regional body’s collective goal is to enhance maritime cooperation on safety of navigation primarily through the implementation of relevant treaties and agreements.
‘Most ASEAN nations discussed Scarborough standoff’
Earlier, on July 9 at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, del Rosario said he has impressed upon his fellow ASEAN foreign ministers the need to discuss the situation in Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal to the Philippines).
He told his colleagues that the resolution of the Scarborough standoff between China and the Philippines is important in maintaining peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea (the name by which the Philippines now calls the South China Sea).
Most ASEAN foreign ministers discussed the Scarborough standoff during the meeting, del Rosario said.
The Philippine foreign minister is in Phnom Penh from July 8 to 12 to attend the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN Plus Three Ministerial Meeting, Post Ministerial Conferences, East Asia Summit Ministerial Meeting, Southwest Pacific Dialogue and the ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial Meeting.
ASEAN groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Scarborough standoff between China and the Philippines started on April 10 when Chinese fishing vessels were seen poaching in the lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal, harvesting endangered marine species like giant clams.
China launches naval war games in East China Sea
BEIJING - China's navy will on Tuesday begin annual military exercises off its east coast, state media reported, amid tensions over maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors.
"According to our annual plan for exercises, the Chinese People's Liberation Army's navy will in the coming days hold exercise activities in the waters near the Zhoushan islands," the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The ministry provided no other details on the war games.
But the China Daily said the live fire naval exercises would start on Tuesday and last for six days.
The Zhoushan islands lie in the East China Sea not far from the coastal city of Shanghai. The China Daily said the exercises would not be held in any waters also claimed by another country.
Last week, the ministry announced a ban on shipping and fishing vessels entering the designated exercise area, the paper said.
The exercises come after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Saturday that Japan was considering buying a chain of islands at the center of its bitter territorial dispute with China and Taiwan.
Those islands in the East China Sea are called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, and are further to the east than the area where the imminent naval exercises are being planned.
China reacted angrily to Noda's remarks, as both governments reiterated their claims over the islands.
China is locked in similarly tense disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the neighboring South China Sea.
Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of increasingly aggressive behavior in the area.
China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the waters
ASEAN backs UNCLOS to settle South China Sea disputes
PHNOM PENH - Southeast Asian states want a UN maritime convention to be the basis for settling competing claims in the South China Sea, a draft document agreed by foreign ministers showed on Tuesday.
The position of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is likely to meet resistance from China, however, which favors settling maritime disputes in the regional hotspot bilaterally.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers are meeting in Cambodia to draw up a long-delayed code of conduct to be signed by them and China aimed at easing friction in the South China Sea.
The draft document outlining ASEAN's position, which was seen by AFP, called on all sides to "undertake to resolve territorial... disputes in the (South China Sea) by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS".
UNCLOS is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty that sets limits on how much of neighbouring seas a nation can consider as their territorial waters or exclusive economic zone.
China is a signatory to UNCLOS, but experts say its claim of essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, would fail under its provisions.
Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia all make rival claims on areas of the sea, where tensions recently mounted.
The draft ASEAN document calls on all parties to resolve disputes "without resorting to the use of force or the threat to use force" and to "commit to respect freedom of navigation and overflights".
ASEAN is proposing that all sides attempt to settle disputes first within the framework of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, an ASEAN-centred pact that also bans the use of force to settle disputes.
Failing that, parties may resort to the "dispute-settlement mechanism provided in international law including UNCLOS", according to the draft, which also calls for cooperative activities to build trust and confidence.
China on Monday said it was willing to discuss the code with ASEAN "when conditions are ripe" but insisted that any potential pact must not be used to resolve rival claims.
"The (code of conduct) is not aimed at resolving disputes, but aimed at building mutual trust and deepening cooperation," China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, said ASEAN members are resisting the idea of settling territorial claims bilaterally.
"This is because they feel that they will not have enough bargaining power in dealing with a bigger China," he told AFP.
Regional tensions have risen recently, with both Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.
China warns ASEAN on South China Sea disputes: 'Don't get involved'
BEIJING - China warned Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday against "hyping" a dispute over the South China Sea, as it voiced opposition to the row being discussed at a regional security forum.
As the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed forming a united position on the sensitive issue during a summit in Cambodia, China insisted the dispute should only be resolved directly between rival claimants.
"This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN, but between China and some ASEAN countries," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.
"Hyping the South China Sea issue... is against the common aspirations of the people and the main trends of the time to seek development and cooperation, and is an attempt to take China-ASEAN relations hostage."
China has expressed a willingness to discuss with the ASEAN bloc a potential South China Sea code of conduct aimed at reducing tensions.
But Liu said Beijing did not want the issue raised when ASEAN foreign ministers met their colleagues from China, the United States, Japan and other countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum starting in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
"The foreign minister's meeting at the ASEAN Regional Forum is an important platform for building mutual trust and enhancing cooperation, it is not the appropriate place to discuss the South China Sea issue," Liu said.
China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the waters.
China recently angered Vietnam by inviting bids for exploration of oil blocks in contested waters. The Philippines has repeatedly accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the waters.
As tensions with China have risen, the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to shore up ties with the United States.
ANALYSIS | China or US? ASEAN considers two powerful suitors
BANGKOK - A US-China tug-of-war over Southeast Asian influence is proving to be a critical test for Washington's "pivot" East as Beijing strengthens its economic and military clout in its own backyard.
Countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of the world's fastest growing regions, are weighing up how to play their cards as the United States plays catch-up with the Chinese juggernaut and tries to reassert itself in Asia.
Washington's recent flurry of engagement with ASEAN states - from the Philippines and Thailand to Singapore and Vietnam - is a potential source of friction with China, especially as tempers flare over territorial disputes and the rapid Chinese military build-up in the resource-rich South China Sea.
But with longstanding US alliances in the region and China's client-state relationship with several members, the ASEAN bloc is unlikely to agree on issues involving the two superpowers at a meeting of their foreign ministers in Cambodia this week.
Individual interests are seen more likely to triumph over consensus at the meeting, which will also be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Some countries will be in a quandary about how to balance ties to get the best out of both of the big players, while others will seek to use the rivalry as an opportunity to extract leverage for economic or military advantage.
Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, ASEAN's poorest states, remain in China's orbit as a result of no-strings loans, desperately needed infrastructure development, military support and floods of investment from Chinese firms.
Beijing also has close economic ties with Singapore and Malaysia and has been aggressively wooing Thailand - a major ally of Washington since World War Two and the launch pad for its Vietnam War operations - offering loans and technology for a high-speed rail network, hundreds of university scholarships to Thai students and recently agreeing to supply Bangkok with 10,000 Chinese-language teachers.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies, said Thailand was a "pivot state" in ASEAN, traditionally close to Washington but now hedging more towards China.
China's strategy in Thailand and several other ASEAN countries was not just trade and investment, but building close relationships to serve its long-term strategic interests.
"China is already engaged all over Southeast Asia ... they're the resident superpower here," Thitinan said. "It's China's stealth power that we've not seen, it's not spoken, it's not aggressive. China can put a lot more in and doesn't need something out of it right away."
US military power
After largely shunning ASEAN under the Bush administration, the United States may fear it is lagging behind as China taps ASEAN's growth. Some analysts say the new Asian strategy is as much about trying to dispel the notion that Washington's economic clout is shrinking as China continues to boom.
The obvious signs of renewed U.S. engagement have so far been military-led, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visiting the region last month to announce plans to base 60 percent of U.S. warships in the Asia-Pacific by 2020, allowing the U.S. "to be agile, to be quickly deployable, to be flexible".
Part of that would be the use of ports in the Philippines, Vietnam and possibly Singapore, in exchange for training and technical support. The U.S. is also seeking to set up a humanitarian response centre at a former Vietnam War-era base in U-Tapao in Thailand.
Washington's charm offensive in the region has emboldened Vietnam and the Philippines, which have taunted China with renewed claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea and prompted talk of possible requests for the deployment of U.S. spy planes there.
According to several ASEAN diplomats, China is suspicious of the U.S. motives and has been lobbying aggressively behind the scenes to shoot down a proposal by Vietnam and the Philippines to draft a joint ASEAN communique on the maritime dispute as rhetoric heats up again after a recent cooling-off period.
The required consensus is unlikely, however, with ASEAN chair Cambodia - China's biggest regional ally and recipient of billions of dollars of loans and investment - refusing to play ball, diplomats told Reuters.
Yet, China and the United States have played down talk of a geostrategic rivalry in the region, welcoming each others' presence and seeking to allay fears in ASEAN that their influence would negatively affect the grouping.
"Too often in ASEAN there's a concern ... of dangerous strategic competition between the United States and China," Kurt Campbell, the State department's top official for East Asia and the Pacific, said recently.
"It's our determination and strong determination to make clear we want to work with China."
In an interview with Thailand's Nation newspaper two weeks ago, China's Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said ASEAN was an "unquestionable priority" for China, but in a veiled reference to new U.S. engagement, warned the group to stay independent.
"If ASEAN takes sides, it would lose its relevance," Fu added.
US officials stress that the shift in focus towards Asia is also as much about business. US diplomats say corporate America is increasingly interested in Southeast Asia, encouraged by the plans for the ASEAN Economic Community.
The ASEAN region has shown resilience to the global economic downturn and is currently one of the few bright spots in the world, driven by foreign direct investment, public infrastructure spending and strong domestic demand.
Morgan Stanley has forecast the investment percentage of GDP for Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia to rise from 22.7 percent in 2011 to 23.2 percent and 23.6 percent in 2012 and 2013.
But US investment in the region could mean muscling-in on China's traditional turf. ASEAN's biggest-ever meeting of U.S. businessmen will take place this week in Cambodia, an event Clinton will also attend.
She will also visit Laos, becoming the most senior U.S. official to do so in 57 years. She will announce a US "Lower Mekong Initiative" offering support in education, environment, health and infrastructure in the Indochina region.
Additionally, Washington has started easing some sanctions on fast-reforming Myanmar that could eventually allow U.S. firms to tap its vast resources, including timber, gemstones, gas and oil, a sector China has so far dominated to safeguard its massive energy needs. A U.S. business delegation will visit the country later this month.
Such moves are good news for China-dependent economies like Laos and Myanmar, which are now reaching out to other countries to try to diversify their sources of investment.
Most countries publicly say they won't side with China or the United States. Some see the engagement is a boon because individual states can exploit the rivalry for their own gain.
Former Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said there was a misperception Thailand's closer links with China meant a deterioration of its U.S. ties. Thailand, he said, was in a strong position to reap benefits from both countries.
"It is important to avoid seeing Thailand's relations with the U.S. and with China as a zero sum game," he said in an email, adding that ASEAN had always wanted a U.S. presence in the region "as a force for stability".
But it may have the opposite effect. The indirect U.S. involvement in the South China Sea issue has led to sabre-rattling and growing calls in China for a tougher stance on the dispute, which a U.S. official on Saturday said was complicated by "intense nationalist sentiment" in the countries affected.
However, increased tensions, providing they do not escalate into confrontation, could work in favour of ASEAN states.
"They don't want China and the United States to be in complete agreement," added Thai academic Thitinan. "These tensions and rivalries give them leverage and bargaining power."
Though the far-reaching moves by Washington and Beijing to court individual ASEAN countries are likely to mean greater investment, the competing interests of the heavyweights may lead to split decisions on ASEAN policy that could dent the bloc's credibility as its 10 member states and 600 million citizens prepare to be integrated into one economic community by 2015.
"The consequence of the U.S. pivot is any prospect for a unified ASEAN is minimal," said Michael Montesano of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"Its members are all aligned in different ways and it puts ASEAN as a grouping in a very uncomfortable position."