The 7th East Asia Summit (EAS) held last week was notable for a number of reasons, including the launching of a new regional free trade agreement and the introduction of several U.S. proposals on energy and maritime security. But the elephant in the room once again was the South China Sea (SCS) and disagreements among ASEAN countries stoked in part by China.
Just over four months ago, ASEAN failed to issue a joint statement at its foreign minister’s meeting for the first time because host nation, Cambodia, insisted that language on the SCS should not even be mentioned. Many suspected that China had used its economic leverage on Cambodia to ensure ASEAN remained divided on the issue, and a few reports even suggested Cambodian officials had shared drafts of the statement with Chinese interlocutors.
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