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While the China threat grabs the headlines these are the maritime issues Southeast Asians want to talk about

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong delivered a stark admonition to Southeast Asian leaders, cautioning of a potential "devastating" conflict over the South China Sea unless diplomatic and legal safeguards are fortified.Expressing concerns over China's assertive actions in the region, particularly its maritime maneuvers, Wong's warning echoes shared apprehensions among neighboring nations like Vietnam and the Philippines.

Amid escalating tensions, Manila reiterated its condemnation of China's "dangerous maneuvers," with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reaffirming unwavering resistance to Chinese encroachment. Strengthening maritime cooperation, Australia and the Philippines inked an agreement paving the way for joint defense exercises and patrols in the South China Sea.

However, not all regional leaders perceive the threat in the same light. Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim cautioned against Western "China phobia," urging against the imposition of external tensions on Southeast Asia.

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While great power competition between the US and China shapes Australia's regional engagements, divergent interests and strategic priorities among Southeast Asian nations underscore the complexity of maritime cooperation. As discussions pivot towards a dedicated maritime forum, issues ranging from security challenges to environmental concerns and sustainable development take center stage.

Despite heightened tensions over territorial disputes, opportunities for collaboration abound in addressing transnational challenges such as pollution, illegal fishing, and climate change. Fostering genuine partnerships based on shared concerns, rather than external pressures, remains paramount in navigating the complex maritime landscape of Southeast Asia.


Source: The Conversation