South China Sea: Asean states set course for Beijing’s red line

South China Sea: Asean states set course for Beijing’s red line

  • No more Mr Nice Guy. Southeast Asian countries are turning up the heat on Beijing as maritime row emerges as a proxy for the US-China struggle
  • Armed with international law and the 2016 arbitral case, their approach may be about to escalate, taking a global flashpoint into uncharted waters

It’s like a fuzzy red line that China imposes on its weaker neighbours involved in the South China Sea dispute: protest all you like about the militarisation and artificial island-building, just don’t mention the international court ruling that rejected Beijing’s far-reaching territorial claims.

Until recently, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) appeared to abide by this unspoken rule from the behemoth next door.

Though the landmark award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 2016 leaned in favour of the Southeast Asian claimants, statements from those countries’ leaders invoking the ruling against China have been few and far between.