Is ASEAN sinking on South China Sea?

Last week's ASEAN meetings--and the broader East Asia Summit--seem to have done little to resolve the regional organization's internal debate over how to respond to China's claims to the South China Sea. ASEAN members Cambodia and the Philippines, in particular, resumed their months-long dispute over whether and how to broach the issue in multilateral fora. 

Writing in The Australian, journalist Philip Bowring argues that ASEAN has likely reached the end of its usefulness on the maritime dispute. What's needed, he insists, is a more cohesive grouping of regional states to oppose China's ambitious claims:

More talk at ASEAN meetings about codes of conduct is delusional stuff. The code, while loved by ASEAN foreign ministers, has done nothing to shield Vietnam and The Philippines from Chinese incursions into their 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones. Malaysia and Brunei have so far escaped direct Chinese attention thanks to their small EEZs and island claims, but China's long arm will reach their waters soon enough.

These countries plus Indonesia need to set up a special group, linked to ASEAN, that can build consensus on negotiating with China. Indonesia has to be a part because as the largest southeast state and implied leader of the Malay world it has much to lose diplomatically from China dominating the smaller states.

In this interview, ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan puts a more positive spin on recent developments:

I would say we have come a long way from July this year. Because July this year we could not issue a communique at all on this issue because of this issue.

Now the way in which the issue was brought up was very civil, was very courteous to each other. We have our interests in the stability and security of this particular body of waters. That's pretty much the tone.

The Multilateralist

House members warn administration on Arms Trade Treaty

To the dismay of some on Capitol Hill, the push for a global arms trade treaty—which would provide basic standards for internationals arms transfers—still has momentum. In part because of a U.S. desire to avoid an election-season fight, this summer's negotiations broke down. But UN members have decided to convene a new conference, which is scheduled for March, and it seems likely that the treaty will be adopted.

Some members of Congress aren't taking that news lying down. Almost a hundred House members, all but four Republican, have introduced a resolution urging the Obama administration to oppose the treaty. The bill warns that the draft "poses significant risks to the national security, foreign policy, and economic interests of the United States as well as to the constitutional rights of United States citizens and United States sovereignty." The sponsors also express concern that the treaty will interfere with the ability of the United States to provide weapons to allies, including Taiwan and Israel.

As they did during the summer, treaty supporters have quickly dismissed these concerns as little more than paranoia. Oxfam America, a key NGO supporter of the treaty, issued a statement today emphasizing that the proposed treaty will have no impact on U.S. gun ownership rights: 

The Obama administration has publicly stated numerous times that it will not support a treaty that infringes on Second Amendment rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There is also language in the treaty text acknowledging that the trade of weapons for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities and lawful ownership is legitimate and will remain to be determined by a country's national laws. Members of the House of Representatives need to separate fact from fiction and stop fueling the paranoia special interest groups are using for fundraising purposes.