ASEAN may need specialize think tanks on South China Sea dispute

This article will explore the need for specialise ASEAN think tank on South China Sea dispute for two reasons. First, is to ensure a credible production of knowledge on South China Sea dispute. Second, a think tank at ASEAN level – may assist the region in charting its own strategic direction.

The study on South China Sea dispute is multidimensional. The scope goes beyond the aspect of legal, military or the issue of historical waters. It broadly covers the logic of Geostrategic, International Relations, Socio-Political studies and even South East Asia maritime history. Thus to produce a holistic understanding of the South China Sea dispute – a form of combined studies ideally should be explored.

On the contrary, a piecemeal approach may not provide a complete and intellectually balanced discourse. Online discussions on the South China Sea is scattered with various writers offering differing perspective, speculations or at times contradicting views.

Upon establishing, ASEAN Think Tank for South China Sea issue should aim to strategize on two fronts.

FIRST – is to organise a coherent SCS discourse with interrelated clusters. In this context, specialise think tanks on the South China Sea should consist of various sub-discipline headed by experts.

Maritime legal scholar, oceanographers, Chinese and SEA historians, China’s and ASEAN political analysts, diplomats and of course political appointees. Ideally, experts are expected to analyse and brainstorm SCS dispute from various angles. This initiative is done with a final aim of producing an integrated and well synthesise understanding.

This form of arrangement can prepare a think-tank to be at the credible position to advise the ‘best course of action’ for ASEAN. On a side note, given a Think-tank relative independence, experts involved in such institution may offer candid views. Foreign Ministries are at times constraint in making direct commentaries due to diplomatic and protocol constraints.

SECOND – upon instituting, SCS Think Tank must get into advocacy programs. Advocacy initiatives should involve, meeting with key experts, the organising of public foras or the production of journals. By this approach – specialised Think-Tank can play a role in advocating the importance of the issue to the public including their collective rights to the waters.

It is worth noting that, from a recent poll done by Institute of China Studies, Universiti Malaya (UM), only 38 % of Malaysians are aware of the South China Sea dispute. Those who are not aware totalled to 56%. In this context – what would the statistics be for the broader ASEAN?

It with a hope that this short article shall be the catalyst for further thinking amongst the academic and policy-maker to explore all the possibilities broached.

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