As 2016 chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations, the Laotian People’s Democratic Republic is leading the group toward political irrelevance. And that is doubtless how China, the hand controlling the Laotian glove puppet, would like to see it.
The three minnows of ASEAN, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos, have just undermined ASEAN’s efforts to present some sort of a united front questioning China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea. Feeble though these have been, with endless talk of a developing a Code of Conduct making scant headway, they have at least been commonly agreed.
Meanwhile China has continued aggressive actions, reclaiming land, driving Filipinos from the Scarborough Shoal which lies well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and sending fleets of fishing boats protected by armed Coast Guard vessels operating 1,000 miles from the China coast to steal the fish from the exclusive zones of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
But creating facts in the sea while stalling the Code of Conduct, is not sufficient for China. On April 24 in the Laotian capital Vientiane, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced, with an understandable sense of triumph, that an “important consensus” had been reached with the three that disputes over the South China Sea should be resolved entirely on a bilateral basis and not involve ASEAN. According to the Chinese, the consensus criticized any efforts to “unilaterally impose an agenda on other countries” and vowed that national sovereignty would prevail over the regional grouping. None of the other parties has contradicted Wang.