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Recent naval and land activities in the Spratlys have highlighted growing tensions and the risk of conflict in the South China Sea. However as China and United States seek to manage their differences the escalation of such incidents to war is seen as unlikely.
Strong calls continue to be made in Washington for the US Navy to increase its freedom of navigation (FON) activities in the South China Sea. This is despite apparent differences of view between the Pentagon and the White House about the wisdom of such action. The US has done little in 2015 to ease concerns about whether it knows what it’s doing in the South China Sea. If anything, the rhetoric coming out of the Pentagon, and the US Navy in particular, has become stronger.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-anticipated statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War provoked relief, surprise and some ambiguity for the future. It was a relief because there had been some reports that Abe would go through with a cabinet decision to pull away from the position of the 1995 Murayama Statement, which was a clear apology to victims of Japan’s wartime aggression. That did not happen.
On 31 December 2015, as envisaged in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint, ASEAN will declare itself as a single market characterized by free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor, and freer flow of capital. But at the sidelines of the 2015 World Economic Forum, Malaysia’s Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed remarked that the free flow of skilled labor within the region would only come in 2020.
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is set to arrive at the end of 2015. It is a significant step forward and could be a crucial turning point for ASEAN. But without a strong central authority and mandate, ASEAN integration will remain in a mess and the AEC remain an illusion.
The goal of the AEC is to implement economic integration initiatives by creating a single market across ASEAN nations. This requires a strong central authority that can harmonise and standardise regional regulations, and it must be recognised by all member countries.
Because of the volatility in the current world order, states are faced with the daunting task of continuously addressing new and emerging security challenges. These threats have the capacity to disrupt peace, security and stability. From the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East to the Ebola epidemic in Africa, they continue to evolve in ways that significantly tests on how states respond to them.
We are witnessing another round of China-bashing — this time because of its reclamation activities on islands and submerged reefs in the South China Sea. The US Department of Defense has accused China of undermining the status quo and generating instability, being out of step with international rules and norms, and ‘militarising’ these features.
Para-naval forces, particularly Coast Guards, are increasingly active in the South China Sea when it comes to enforcing maritime rights. These so-called “white-hulled” fleets are more and more serving as proxies for naval forces, ratcheting down confrontations at sea. This may not last forever, however.