China faces increased pressure this week over their island-building campaign in the South China Sea as the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will host three days of talks starting on Tuesday. While it will discuss a variety of issues concerning its members, China’s expansion activities are expected to take center stage.
Building artificial islands atop once shallow reefs, China has added military outposts to the contentious waters, raising concern with the U.S. as well as its neighbors.
Although many ASEAN members have historically claimed the area in dispute, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, China has made claim to the entire region. China’s response to criticism is an assertion of “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the region.
The U.S. has worries over the impact to international trade through the contested waterways, but Malaysia claims there has been some progress made towards a “Code of Conduct” (COC), which will help to dictate behavior during disputes at sea.
The Philippines contradicted this saying that China has been dragging its heels for years in order to delay the implementation of a COC deal. While bureaucratic meetings come to no effect, China continues to increase its presence in the area with more artificial islands.
Other issues to be covered during the meeting include human trafficking from Bangladesh and Myanmar. With Thailand and Malaysia also under scrutiny for their role in the practice, some southeast Asian countries blame Myamar for creating the incentive for trafficking through its persecution of the Rohingya minority.
China’s foreign minister Liu Zhenmin has already stated that China will object to any attempt to address the South China Sea issue. They made the counterclaim that the U.S. was in fact responsible for militarizing the area when it began sending patrols and conducting drills with allies such as the Philippines. China would of course prefer a quiet takeover of the region with no dispute, the coming week’s events will determine whether there is any hope for that outcome.