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The Tragedy of the Southeast Asian Commons

Ritualism in ASEAN’s Response to the South China Sea Maritime Dispute

In: European Journal of East Asian Studies
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The South China Sea disputes have proven to be the most divisive issue in ASEAN. The collective decision-making of the ten member states towards the issue remains ineffective and this has often been attributed to their disunity. However, disunity in the ASEAN maritime commons is symptomatic of the underlying political culture in Southeast Asia. Using Lucian Pye’s analysis of power as ritual in Southeast Asian political culture, we can surmise that the disjuncture between the hopes for a definitive Code of Conduct and the resulting lack of consensus in the 2012 biannual ASEAN summit chaired by Cambodia concretised ritualism. This paper’s analysis focuses on how intra-ASEAN disagreement in resolving the South China Sea maritime dispute was compounded by Cambodia’s 2012 ASEAN chairmanship. It revealed that power as ritual reduces ASEAN integration into a temple in support of the secularised version of the cosmic order and thus tolerating its lack of pragmatic utility and efficiency.

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