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South China Sea dispute to internationalise, say experts


China will not be able to avoid the internationalisation of the South China Sea conflict – a key goal stressed during President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to Cambodia – and is in some ways perpetuating it, foreign policy experts said yesterday at a forum on security issues in South Asia.

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Director of the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute Amitabh Mattoo said too many claimants were involved, with China inadvertently including India by reacting “so strongly” to an exploration carried out by an Indian company with Vietnam last year.    

“China is really in some ways counter-intuitively creating the grounds for much larger internationalisation.

“I think it’s going to be a larger question because it’s related to Chinese rights… It has to be part of the package in which China’s rise is seen,” he said.

China has repeatedly expressed its desire for non-intervention of countries outside the region and for bilateral negotiations.

The issue dominated the recent ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, despite Cambodia, as chair, initially stating it would not be on the agenda.

Mattoo said China’s preference to negotiate bilaterally was understandable.

“Great powers hate multilateralism. The smaller powers would want to gang up together against the great power,” he said.  

ASEAN also has been presented with an opportunity to reach out to North Korea, with the US’s recent suspension of food aid to the pariah state following its recent internationally condemned, and ultimately failed, missile launch, Mattoo said.

“I think what ASEAN can do, is woo and dine, somehow reach out to North Korea … by a combination of carrots, sticks and soft power,” he said.  

The lecture was organised by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace and the Indian Embassy. It touched on security and the balance of power in the South Asian region.

“We anticipate that as Americans withdraw from Afghanistan, they will become more involved in the Asia-Pacific region because … that is where the great game is going to play for the 21st century,” said Griffith University’s Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security research fellow Ashutosh Misra, adding that the US shared common concerns with India and Australia over China’s rise.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cassandra Yeap at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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