Last Tuesday the China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting took place in Beijing to discuss the vexed South China Sea dispute and the impending ruling of the Hague Tribunal, widely expected to go against China. The problem that arose was how to characterize the meeting and on how to present its conclusions to the public and the press. And that's where the problem arose and the farce began.
* First the Singapore FM who was to hold a joint press briefing with his Chinese counterpart, openly walked out of the briefing allegedly as the Chinese FM tried to put pressure on him to "soften" the rhetoric. The Singapore FM was there as the representative of the 10 ASEAN FMs.
* Next the Malaysians issued a statement that was strongly worded, on behalf of the ASEAN group, that voiced "serious concern" and "opposed" China's militarization and land reclamation in the SCS area.
*Hours later the Malaysians retracted the statement and said that a revised statement would be issued. None has been issued so far. Apparently the Malaysians beat the gun, since no ASEAN consensus had been achieved before they issued the statement.
*Thereafter several ASEAN states issued their own individual statements. The Vietnamese statement came closest to the original Malaysian statement.
*Not to be left behind, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson maintained that any ASEAN statement issued did not reflect the "official" stance of the ASEAN states during the meetings. The Chinese also maintained that the Singapore FM has not walked out of the joint press briefing, but had left as he had a plane to catch!
*The ASEAN Secretariat then clarified that they had not received any joint ASEAN FMs statement from the member states and as such there was nothing to circulate.
* The above fiasco just shows that ASEAN member states are very divided on how to deal with China. They cannot even formulate a joint statement. Just to recap, except for tiny Brunei, China is the largest trading partner of all other ASEAN states. China has been very indulgent in advancing aid, loans etc. to all of them.
* Thus who wants to give up the Chinese largess?