China risking economic interests, analyst says

Posted at 08/08/14 1:13 PM

'Plans to build lighthouses in disputed islands violate UNCLOS'

MANILA - A showdown looks imminent between China and its regional neighbors at this weekend's ASEAN meeting in Myanmar over disputes in the South China Sea.

Just days before the start of the crucial ASEAN talks, China's state media has revealed plans to build lighthouses on five islands there.

At least two of the islets are in the Paracel Islands, also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

In an interview on ANC's "Headstart" on Friday, political analyst Clarita Carlos said it is a serious move by China to assert its claims in the area.

"There are six claimant countries in the South China Sea. But the thing is, you cannot change the de facto features there, like I suppose you know that China is creating an island -- these are supposed to be natural forms, natural features, you cannot build on reefs and suddenly create an island," she said.

The plans also defy calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity to ease tensions over rival claims in the area.

Such a freeze is part of a triple action plan that the Philippines is expected to propose at the ASEAN meetings in Myanmar this weekend.

The Philippines said it has already secured the backing of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Brunei.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to push for the voluntary freeze, setting the stage for a showdown with China at the regional forum.

But Beijing has made it clear it has no intention of heeding these calls.

Carlos warned if China pursues this tack, it would be at the expense of its own economic interests.

"China is applying to be a superpower. If it wants to be a responsible superpower, then it should not allow its hawks in the government to continue doing this. For God's sake, we're moving towards the ASEAN economic community in a few years and China is looking at a 620 million market. Do you want to lose that? I don't know," she said.

Myanmar to play delicate balancing act

There's pressure too on host Myanmar.

Three years into an ongoing process of democratic reform, it has opened up diplomatically and economically to the west and its ASEAN neighbors after decades of isolation.

That's been accompanied by what observers see as an attempt to reduce its dependence on China even as it remains Myanmar's largest trading partner.

As host nation, Myanmar will be under pressure from both pro- and anti-China camps, making its role as this year's ASEAN chair a delicate balancing act.

"That is a very real concern for Myanmar because it has a very long boundary with China, plus the fact that the Mekong River from which it derives its agricultural production, the head waters is in China. So these are some of the real geopolitical considerations that we also have to pay attention to," Carlos said.

With China stonewalling its neighbours in Southeast Asia on territorial and maritime issues, it seems clear that this weekend's meetings will achieve little more than an agreement to meet and talk again. - ANC