The 'Asean Way' and Regional Security Cooperation in the South China Sea

30 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2014

See all articles by Pek Koon Heng

Pek Koon Heng

American University - School of International Service

Date Written: December 2014


The ASEAN Way of security cooperation – based on principles of sovereignty, non-intervention, peaceful resolution of conflict, and consultation and consensus decision-making – has maintained intra-ASEAN harmony since the grouping’s formation in 1967. It has also enabled ASEAN to play a central role in regional integration by successfully engaging external major powers in an overlapping regional network of ASEAN-led organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus. However, exercising decisive influence within the wider Asia-Pacific environment is beyond ASEAN’s limited strategic resources. Moreover, the consensus-seeking, shallowly institutionalized ASEAN Way approach has seemed poorly equipped to handle Chinese assertive divide-and-rule diplomacy that has accompanied its power projection in the South China Sea. As China mounts its maritime claims and seeks to expand its regional influence relative to the United States, ASEAN is challenged to maintain intra-ASEAN unity, deepen intra-ASEAN integration and effectively engage the United States, China and other powers in safeguarding peace and stability in the region. Despite shortcomings in the ASEAN Way of security cooperation, it is argued that, given the inability of China and Japan to provide cooperative leadership in establishing an alternative multilateral security mechanism, ASEAN will continue to serve as the “default instrumentality” for maintaining a modest level of multilateral security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.

Keywords: ASEAN Way, security cooperation, default instrumentality, US pivot to Asia, South China Sea, disputed maritime claims, UNCLOS, Code of Conduct

Suggested Citation

Heng, Pek Koon, The 'Asean Way' and Regional Security Cooperation in the South China Sea (December 2014). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. 2014/121, Available at SSRN: or

Pek Koon Heng (Contact Author)

American University - School of International Service ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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