Why have Southeast Asian countries accepted China’s proposal to set aside disputes and pursue joint development in the South China Sea in one case (2005-2008), but not the other (since 2009)? The supposed answer is that the change of balance of power and the ways China utilizes its growing power caused problems of cooperation. By exercising or accepting power restraint embedded in agreed-upon rules and institutions, China’s leadership was broadly acknowledged. After Beijing signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS (2002) and ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (2003), Southeast Asian countries were more willing to accept and work within Chinese cooperative initiatives (Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking). China has failed gaining followership of Southeast Asian countries since 2009 because it is unwilling to solve the South China Sea disputes though multilateral rules and agreements. The lack of a “rule-based order” in the South China Sea, which can turn a hegemonic power to become more predictable and controlled leads to the fact that China’s cooperative projects receive little sympathy from Southeast Asian states. Based on this point, we conclude that the joint development can only be feasible when China accepts to bind itself within institutions or legal agreements.
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