By Colin Lovett – Tensions over the South China Sea are the backdrop of this week’s meeting between foreign ministers from China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The issue is expected to be a major focus of the agenda in Beijing. It is also high on the agenda in Brunei, where regional defense chiefs are meeting with their counterparts from China, the U.S. and other countries. But a breakthrough is seen as unlikely.
Cambodia’s close relationship with China came under close scrutiny last year when it hosted a major ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh. For the first time in history, the ministers were unable to agree on the language of a joint declaration, a signal of ongoing controversy among the ministers.
The United States, which says it does not take sides in the territorial disputes, has increased its diplomatic engagement on the issue.
The United States is also talking with the Philippines, including negotiations to increase the rotational presence of U.S. military forces and equipment. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a major increase in U.S. funding for military education and training programs in Southeast Asia.