Sea of troubles: China and ASEAN
Foreign ministers from China and the ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations gather today in Kunming, in south-west China. Their minds, as ever, will be on the nerve-jangling South China Sea, where China continues to turn disputed features into man-made islands. The meeting follows a rare public row: China claimed a “consensus” with three of ASEAN’s smaller members—Brunei, Cambodia and Laos—on handling the sea’s many territorial wrangles without ASEAN’s help. Diplomats from Singapore, ASEAN’s current China “co-ordinator”, accused Beijing of seeking to divide the organisation by undermining the hallowed principle of its own (full) consensus. China says the Singaporeans simply have the wrong end of the stick, but shows little real interest in what has interested ASEAN for years: a binding code of conduct, including, for example, a building ban, to avoid conflict in the sea. That is, once again, on the agenda; it will be for years to come.