VIENTIANE, Laos – Southeast Asian nations are in unparalleled disarray over Beijing’s saber-rattling in the South China Sea, analysts and insiders say, with the fractures set to deepen as staunch China ally Laos hosts top regional diplomats this weekend.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are among the delegates due to fly in from Sunday for two days of meetings in Vientiane, the capital of the communist nation.
The South China Sea is set to cast a long shadow over the summit which is hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Earlier this month, a United Nations-backed tribunal found there was no legal basis for China’s claims to most of the strategic and resource-rich seas – a ruling rejected as “waste paper” by Beijing.
ASEAN prides itself on consensus diplomacy but divisions have never been starker with Beijing blamed for driving a wedge between members.
The Philippines brought the international arbitration case, while fellow ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have competing claims to parts of the sea.
But Cambodia – and hosts Laos – are Beijing loyalists, with both impoverished nations weaned on Chinese aid and investment.
Shortly after The Hague ruling, Beijing announced more than $500 million in soft loans for Cambodia.
“China has succeeded in splitting ASEAN on the South China Sea issue through its allies Laos and Cambodia,” an ASEAN diplomat told AFP requesting anonymity. (AFP)