Tensions in the South China Sea will increase due to a U.S.-China rivalry that could be kept in check, if only Southeast Asian countries took a united stand to influence the status quo, a top Philippine security official said on Wednesday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was caught up in the battle for regional influence but it could do more to ensure stability and should take a common approach, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a security forum.
“Where is the ASEAN in this superpower rivalry? Despite its avowed ASEAN centrality, it is anything but,” Lorenzana said. “ASEAN would exert considerable influence on issues and events in the South China Sea if only it could act as one.”
Lorenzana’s remarks are unusually blunt for a minister from within the 10-member bloc, which rarely speaks up as a group against militarisation or perceived acts of aggression, with some states worried about angering Beijing or Washington.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China and all but Brunei have been involved in standoffs this year with Chinese vessels.