My Take

China is making itself the spanner in Asean's works

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 12:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 12:57am

The United States wants a more unified Association of South East Asian Nations to back its pivot to Asia. China prefers a bickering Asean that is little more than a talk shop. China's goal is of course much easier to obtain, as witnessed in the latest joint communiqué.

Without naming anyone, the release warned that land reclamations in the strategic South China Sea "had increased tensions", but stopped short of including demands by the Philippines and the US that all reclamation, construction and militarisation should halt.

Even this was enough to anger China. To be sure, it was not as obsequious as what happened in 2012, when Cambodia, as the then Asean chair, made sure there wasn't even a communiqué after a forum meeting.

That was too embarrassing even for Asean. If it kept operating like that, there simply was no reason for it to continue to exist.

So this time around, it sent out a statement that was all talk but no bite as far as Beijing is concerned.

More Asean countries are falling under China's spell.

The latest is Thailand. Since the coup, the ruling generals feel isolated internationally. But China opens its arms. The Thai foreign minister, General Tanasak Patimapragorn, sounded like he was in love with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency," he said last week at a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur during the Asean regional security conference.

"Let's say we are so close, we are more than friends… We don't talk diplomatic talk, we talk like personal, like family, like friend."

Seriously, I am not making this up or quoting from The Onion. It's a real wire story taken from Agence France-Presse.

General Tanasak is a close confidant of coup leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Our foreign minister, a discreet man, appeared taken aback by the close intimacy of the remarks. But hey, Thais are passionate people.

As Henry Kissinger used to say, there is nothing like a close personal relationship to make diplomacy work.

It's a small price to pay to sow discord within Asean by being close to the generals.