Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam rejected China’s new map 

China published a new version of its national map on 28 August 2023 to correct what China claims as a misrepresentation of China’s territorial borders. 

The new map includes a U-shaped line that reaffirms Beijing’s claims to sovereign territory over almost all of the South China Sea with the line extending into the exclusive economic zones of a number of countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The new map also revives the use of a “10-dash” line – with an additional dash to the east of Taiwan – a break from the usual nine-dash line Beijing has been using in recent years to stake its claims over large swathes of the South China Sea. India and Taiwan have strongly opposed Beijing’s new map while Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam all rejected the map in a strongly worded statement accusing Beijing of claiming their territory.  

The Philippines Foreign Affairs department said “the map is the latest attempt to legitimize China’s purported sovereignty and jurisdiction over Philippines features and maritime zones with no basis under international law” while Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed China’s “unilateral claims” and “Malaysia does not recognize China’s claims in the South China Sea as outlined”. Vietnam’s official statement emphasised that the map is “invalid” and Hanoi “resolutely opposes all China’s claims in the South China Sea based on the dotted – line”. The Chinese spokesperson said “it is a routine practice in China’s exercise of sovereignty in accordance with the law” and China “hopes relevant sides can stay objective and calm, and refrain from over-interpreting the issue”. Mr. Allan Behm, Director of the International Security Affairs Program at the Australian Institute, stated that the timing of the release of the Chinese new map was to stir “the pot” and “re-apply pressure” on the G20 and ASEAN summit’s participants by advancing its claims once again.  

The new map is not only signalling China’s new ambition to garner territory, but it will also muster the disputants’ cooperation against Beijing in the long run.

ASEAN held its 43rd Summit in Jakarta

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conducted its 43rd Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia from 5th–7th September 2023 under the theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”.  

The Cambodian Prime Minister (PM) Hun Manet, who succeeded his father last month, made his debut speech encouraging economic integration, highlighting the ongoing geopolitical rivalry, and encouraging trade upgrades while Indonesian President Widodo addressed that the “future challenges are getting heavier and they cause competition for influence by the big powers”. The summit was also the second year in a row that Myanmar was not invited to the regional meeting while the PM of Timor-Leste attended as an observer. While the issues such as the Russia – Ukraine war and the release of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima power plant were lightly discussed, the Myanmar crisis and China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea dominated the 43rd Summit. 

On the Myanmar issue, the leaders condemned the continued acts of violence and urged the Myanmar Armed Forces in particular, and all related parties concerned in Myanmar, to de-escalate violence and stop targeted attacks on civilians, houses, and public facilities such as schools, hospitals, and markets. The bloc leaders also decided to set up a troika made up of the current, previous, and next ASEAN Chairs to ensure that efforts will continue to deal with the Myanmar crisis which they believe will unlikely be resolved in a year. Moreover, instead of Myanmar as the ASEAN Chair, the Philippines is ready and agreed to chair ASEAN instead of Myanmar in 2026. In addition, there are also speculations that the junta will likely hold its elections in 2025.  

The South China Sea issue was also spotlighted in the summit as China recently released its new territorial map with overlapping claims with several maritime Southeast Asian countries. However, the members reaffirmed their shared commitment to safeguarding and promoting peace, security, and stability in the South China Sea. During the meeting, China made no mention of the new “standard map” that the Chinese government released. Furthermore, the attempts to accelerate the negotiation of the South China Sea’s Code of Conduct (COC) have failed, and the COC, itself, is unlikely to be concluded by the end of this year. The regional bloc and China remained divided on whether the agreement should be legally binding, its geographic scope and maritime activities. 

Leaders from South Korea, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia were also among the participants. However, US Vice President Kamala Harris attended the meeting in lieu of President Joe Biden while Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented at the summit in lieu of President Xi Jinping and President Putin. The upgrading of relations with dialogue partners, including the Strategic Partnership with Canada and a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Japan demonstrated the progressive engagements between ASEAN and its partners.  

Many viewed the absence of President Joe Biden at the ASEAN meeting as a glaring diplomatic snub believing that Indonesia and the region are no longer a top priority of the US administration despite the White House’s denial in neglecting ASEAN. On the Myanmar issue, Prime Minister Anwar expressed disappointment that there was slow progress on the issue despite Indonesia having taken enormous and unprecedented steps. Due to this slow progress, Timor Leste announced that it would re-think plans to join ASEAN, citing the body’s failure to “convince the military junta to end the violence”. Despite China viewing the Myanmar issue as “not so serious”, the US Vice President stated that “the US will continue to press the regime to end the horrific violence to release all those unjustly detained and to reestablish Myanmar’s path to inclusive democracy”. 

On the South China Sea issue, China believed that “as long as we keep to the right path, no matter what storm may come, China – ASEAN cooperation will be as firm as ever” while there are those who viewed the bloc as avoiding to confront China and chose to omit this issue from the summit. Marty Natalegawa, the former foreign minister of Indonesia, called ASEAN’s failure to condemn China’s aggressive acts “a deafening silence” while others believed that “the US is turning the sea into a playground for major power competition, totally disregarding the regional countries’ quest for peace, stability, and development” for its own strategic needs and maintain its global hegemony.  

The 43rd ASEAN Summit concluded with clear evidence that the bloc is facing dire issues both internally and externally which the ASEAN Chair 2024 required to deal with all those complexities.


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.