For the first time in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN's) 45-year history, no joint communique was issued at the end of an annul meeting of foreign ministers of its member countries in July due to disagreement over the statement's wording.
Many pundits have blamed the host country, Cambodia, for failing to forge a consensus.
Bonnie S. Glaser, a U.S. expert in China affairs, said that Cambodia's passivity was the result of pressure from Beijing to keep any mention of the South China Sea, particularly a nearly two-month standoff between China and the Philippines around the Scarborough Shoal, out of the communique.
Calling it an example of China's coercive economic diplomacy, Glaser said that Chinese willingness to use its economic clout to settle international disputes in its favor is a worrying trend.
Two major local newspapers ran reports on Glaser's article and related issues in their Wednesday editions. The following are excerpts from the reports:
Glaser, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, said in an article published in late July that the fact China holds sway over Cambodia should not come as a surprise.
"Beijing has provided billions in aid to Cambodia. In 2011 alone the amount of foreign investment pledged to Phnom Penh by China was 10 times greater than that promised by the United States," Glaser wrote.
For more than a decade, she went on, China has pursued a strategy in Southeast Asia that has relied on economic carrots to increase the stake of countries in the region in maintaining good ties with it.
The latest example of China employing economic measures for coercive purposes took place during the faceoff between armed Chinese and Philippine ships in waters surrounding the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China, over their conflicting sovereignty claims, Glaser noted.
During the period that began April 10, Chinese quarantine agency reportedly blocked a number of container vans of Philippine bananas from entering China's ports, claiming that the fruit contained pests.
The move dealt a severe blow to the Philippines which exports more than 30 percent of its bananas to the Philippines.
Moreover, China's travel agencies suspended sending tour groups to the Philippines, allegedly due to concerns for Chinese tourists' safety. China has emerged as one of the Philippines' major source of tourists. Eventually, Filipino corporate leaders pushed their government to drop its confrontational approach in the Scarborough Shoal, which Glaser said was the outcome that China hoped for.
Glaser also cited a more widely reported case of China using trade as a weapon to force a country to alter its policy that occurred in September 2010 when Beijing blocked shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan.
The ban was taken in retaliation for Japan's detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler in an incident near the Tiaoyutai Islands, which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan. Beijing's action alarmed Tokyo and was a major factor in Japan's decision to release the captain shortly afterwards.
A third example of China's use of economic coercion was triggered by the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In the ensuing months, China froze free trade agreement negotiations with Norway and imposed new veterinary inspections on imports of Norwegian salmon that resulted in a dramatic cutback.
In June, China also rejected a visa application by former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. (Aug. 8, 2012).
United Daily News:
The United States' recent criticism of China's establishment of Sansha city and military garrison in the contested South China Sea as risking an escalation in tensions has angered Chinese authorities.
On Monday, a U.S. State Department official said the Aug. 3 statement was a very comprehensive statement which clearly laid out U.S.'s policy and its belief that there needs to be a collaborative diplomatic solution without coercion to all aspects of the South China Sea.
Describing the South China Sea as an area of concern, the official said, the U.S. government is concerned about economic coercion.
"And so given where we are, we thought it was appropriate to make a clear statement of our policy," said Patrick Ventrell, director of the State Department's Press Office. (Aug. 8, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)