Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (R) directs Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C) and his wife Tran Thanh Kiem (L) to the opening ceremony of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, November 17.
Just days before US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrive in Bali for the East Asia Summit (EAS), Indonesia said on Wednesday (November 16) the ten-member ASEAN bloc intended to introduce a "code of conduct" that it wanted EAS countries to adhere to.
"Indonesia has proposed the conduct of mutually beneficial relations among EAS countries. We foresee the application of 12 or 13 principles, based on which countries in East Asia will conduct themselves," Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa told a press briefing following the 19th ASEAN summit.
Attending the 6th East Asia Summit in Bali on November 19 are two new members, US and Russia, besides the ten ASEAN member states, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Natalegawa said ASEAN maintains connection with other countries outside the region but it won't "dilute" itself with their participation, specifically the US and Russia.
Analysts have said the US's plan to send 2,500 marines to Australia is a move to counterbalance with China's strength in the region, but Natalegawa said that it is bilateral matter between the US and China.
"We do not wish to see our region be subject to a damaging and negative competition among the bigger countries, (but this) must be grounded on realities and idealism based on pragmatism. It is not possible to wish away the influence of bigger (non-ASEAN) countries, but we can have some kind of code of conduct, some kind of certain norms, within which countries conduct or carry on their activities within our region," Natalegawa said.
Tensions in Southeast Asia have risen in recent months over Beijing's increasing aggression in the East Sea, also known as South China Sea, a vital shipping route that also contains vast energy resources.
The Bali Principles are likely to contain clauses that involve the renunciation of the use of force and the primacy of peaceful settlement, Natalegawa said, in line with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia that non-ASEAN states have signed to show agreement with the basic principles of the organization.
US, China differ
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged claimants to the East Sea not to resort to intimidation - an indirect reference to China, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Clinton reiterated that the United States wanted a candid discussion of the maritime dispute when the leaders gather in Bali for the EAS summit.
"The United States does not take a position on any territorial claim, because any nation with a claim has a right to assert it," Clinton said in Manila, while marking the 60th anniversary of the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.
"But they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion. They should be following international law, the rule of law, the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea."
However, China says it does not want the issue discussed. "Introducing a contentious subject into the meeting would only affect the atmosphere of cooperation and mutual trust, damaging the hard-won setting of healthy development in the region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Wednesday. "That is beyond any doubt," he said.
Mark Valencia, a marine analyst at the National Bureau of Asian Research in the US, said Clinton's move may not embolden Southeast Asia's hand against China.
"Those that want to push China on this issue are already doing so (Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia); others are reluctant to do so for various reasons including loyalty to China," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.
He said ASEAN should continue to strengthen its position in the region before witnessing any related actions from other countries.
"Please remember that the US concern is with "˜freedom of navigation,' not sorting out jurisdictional claims - it cares about the latter only as it affects the former so the interests overlap but are not identical," he said.
"It is not so much that ASEAN is "˜toothless' but it is split particularly on the Philippines proposal with only a few favoring it outright - and some actually opposed at least at this time wanting first to nail down a binding code of conduct."
Aaron Friedberg, a close adviser to former US Vice President Dick Cheney, has called for a higher defense budget to meet the China "˜threat' "” even in the face of overwhelming US fiscal challenges.
"Concern about China's military "˜buildup' has also spread to U.S. allies Japan and Australia. Friedberg maintains that China is seeking to become "˜Asia's dominant power by eroding the credibility of America's security guarantees, hollowing out its alliances and eventually easing it out of the region," Valencia said.
"If this "˜challenge' is not met, China will be able to sow doubt in America's staying power and thus persuade Southeast Asian countries to "˜accommodate China's wishes,'" he cites Friedberg's comment.