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The US is taking on Beijing over the South China Sea, but Asean remains cautious

  • With US-China ties fraying and a need for trade with China amid the Covid-19 pandemic, countries in the region cannot risk siding with Washington, analysts say
  • Negotiations over a code of conduct in the disputed waterway could also stall following the US’ assertions that Beijing’s claims are ‘completely unlawful’

Most Asean countries will remain cautious and not publicly take the United States’ side after Washington rejected Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, according to analysts.

Observers said countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were also worried about the ramifications of a possible clash between the world’s two largest economies after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said China’s assertions of sovereignty in the disputed waterway were “completely unlawful”.Le Hong Hiep, research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said Pompeo’s statement would allow Asean countries to enjoy a stronger legal and political position vis-à-vis Beijing in the South China Sea.

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