2012 - When Asean felt Beijing's bite
It was a year of Chinese bullying and souring regional relations, when former leaders were hauled before the courts and ethnic tensions turned violent. Mother Nature left her calling cards while authorities wrapped up loose ends in the war on terror in Southeast Asia and Myanmar made steady steps toward democracy, raising hopes for the New Year.
Twenty-twelve should be remembered as the year in which China acted on its long-standing claims in the South China Sea, took off the gloves and arraigned its intimidating military and diplomatic arsenal against its neighbours to the south. Gone were the usual glib lines that China only gives foreign aid and soft loans to countries in need, with no strings attached. Cambodia _ for years a benefactor of Beijing's largesse _ was bullied onto China's political front lines, acting as a spoiler against fellow Asean countries attempting to forge a united front against Beijing's territorial and maritime ambitions.
IN DISPUTE: Pagasa Island, part of the Spratly group in the South China Sea off the coast of the Philippines. China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea.
Military stand-offs were focused around the Spratly and Paracel islands, characterised by gunboat diplomacy deployed amid an overarching presence by the US, whose pivot back to Southeast Asia added a sense of urgency to the dispute and some balance to Chinese belligerence.
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