Southeast Asian officials to conclude China visit

Today will conclude an official three-day visit by the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore to China.

Maxar Technologies

Photo: Maxar Satellite Technologies

Today will conclude an official three-day visit by the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore to China.

The ministers were invited by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. According to a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, the purpose of the visit was to demonstrate Beijing’s “profound friendship and growing affinity through closer interactions” with its neighbours.

This week’s diplomatic event occurs amidst heightened Chinese maritime grey zone activities—aggressive measures short of war—to secure hegemony over the South China Sea (SCS). Currently, 220 Chinese marine vessels are occupying Whitsun Reef, an area within the Philippines’ SCS maritime boundary, though officially they are avoiding inclement weather. Since first being spotted in early March, the Philippines has repeatedly called on China to remove its vessels to little effect. Now, the Philippine Air Force has conducted daily patrols over the reefs.

China’s historical use of grey zone tactics has given it partial dominance over the SCS. In response, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has unsuccessfully proposed the creation of a code of conduct to govern SCS activities. China’s occupation of swathes of the SCS is a reality that is unlikely to change in the short- to medium-term. Instead, expect issues like Whitsun Reef to continue to be swept under the rug as China advances its grey zone policies.

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