SOUTH CHINA SEA
Recent arguments between Asean member states who are claimants to parts of the South China Sea and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire maritime area, have seriously upset the strategic equilibrium of the region. Temperatures are rising, especially as China also aggressively challenges Japan's claim to the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.
The row over contested claims in the South China Sea has damaged ties between Asean and its giant neighbour to the North, helped fuel boundary disputes with Japan and pushed the United States into adopting a more muscular security posture across the region. Asean member states are now at odds with one another over how to deal with China, which has undermined the traditional consensus-driven dynamics of the 10-member bloc and opened up the possibility of disagreement in other areas.
How to restrain and contain the problem and restore the equilibrium of the recent past should now be the focus of regional diplomacy. In this respect the region faces two options _ one of them harder and more dangerous than the other.