ASEAN unity is crucial, period. We can’t genuinely progress in political integration if we lack an institutional security architecture and political vehicles to better this security structure.
In the so-called ASEAN roadmap, we have the ASEAN Political-Security Community as the pillar for common political & security challenges in Southeast Asia, particularly the South China Sea disputes. The SCS fiasco’s commenced a de facto arms race among claimant states, and now we’re witnessing 100%+ increase in defense spending of some of them like Vietnam.
As an appendage to the dangerous arms race, the threats to fishermen are also equally concerning. In 2000, one Chinese fisherman was shot dead by the Philippines near Palawan Island, while for the last 3 years we witnessed Chinese naval ships deliberately attacking and sinking Vietnamese fishing vessels in both Paracel and Spratly Islands. Many of the claimants, despite their worries about their fishermen’s safety, encourage continued fishing activities in the most contentious areas of the disputed waters in order to reiterate firmly their sovereignty claims.
The seemingly unceasing onslaught against fishermen -who’re not all guilty of illegal fishing and poaching- is barely jointly tackled by ASEAN+3 summits. Although we have both the Fisheries Consultative Forum and the Strategic Plan of Action Cooperation on Fisheries 2016-2020, ASEAN still has no mechanism concerned about attacks on fishermen in South China Sea, most especially if the attacker’s from an outside state like China. We have to set ASEAN ad hoc committees concerned with all tangible activities in SCS, and the review that they will conduct must be submitted to ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting for serious discussion.
We need to have a common policy and approach on both the conspicuous militarization of SCS and armed threats against civilian life & fishing industry at large. – jude