Despite the bad taste between China and Malaysia following the missing MH370 aircraft, Malaysia is now urging China to move forward with developing a code of conduct in regards to the South China Seas. So far, China has stalled on efforts to create such an accord and is likely resist the current attempts.

Malaysia MH370 flight

Tensions between China and its neighbors have been rising in recent months. China is growing increasingly assertive in regards to their claim over the South China Seas. In recent weeks, the Chinese moved an oil rig into waters contested by Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Philippines is taking its challenge to Chinese claims over the South China Seas to the United Nations. This engraged China, which would have preferred to leave the UN out of the conflict.

Will Malaysia be able to push unity?

Up until now, China has used a divide and conquer tactic to keep ASEAN, a grouping of South East Asian states and many of the states currently in territorial disputes with China, from acting together. China has been able to pit ASEAN countries without territorial disputes to vote against any sort of unified response.

Regardless, those countries in dispute with China have been growing closer together. While they have not yet presented a unified front, Malaysia and others have been urging for cooperation from one another in counter China. Divided, no ASEAN countries represents a serious challenge to China’s regional ambition, but combined they could force the Chinese to reconsider.

United States aligning with ASEAN

The comments came at a security meeting held in Singapore. During the talks, members of ASEAN who have disputes with China grew increasingly agitated over China’s recent provocations. The United States, meanwhile, backed up the ASEAN countries and criticized China.

The United States has been trying to build up support among its Asian allies to counter any potential Chinese expansion in the region. America has begun a recent Asian pivot and has been reallocating resources to Asia, drawing down its wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Regardless, the realities of budget cuts mean that the United States can no longer afford to take on China all by itself.

Allies will be key for any American efforts to contain China. Luckily, the Middle Kingdom’s belligerence is making such allies easy to come by. China now finds itself in a difficult position. On one hand the country wants to demonstrate its new found power. On the other hand, any such demonstrations of that power risks alienating regional neighbors.

And that could send said neighbors straight into the arms the United States.