ASEAN chairs since 2013 have made it priority to unify members or avoid upsetting China, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taipei. The chair rotates to a new Southeast Asian country every year.

Malaysia last year maintained an “ASEAN-centric” approach, he said. Chairs this year from Laos and in 2014 from Myanmar also avoided the maritime disputes due to risks of disunity and upsetting their own ties with Beijing, he added, while Brunei as 2013 chair, took a characteristically “low-profile” stance on the maritime dispute.

“It is likely that the Philippines will advocate a leadership role for ASEAN in managing the South China Sea disputes, but it will not sacrifice ASEAN unity to achieve those aims,” Spangler said. “Only half of the ten-member regional grouping has South China Sea claims, so an iron-fisted ASEAN role is far less likely than one that cautiously balances the interests of all its members. For many countries, their relations with Beijing would be a greater priority.”

http://www.voanews.com/a/south-china-see-dispute-philippine/3635743.html

From interview transcript:

“With Malaysia as the ASEAN chair in 2015, the country maintained quite an ASEAN-centric approach to dispute management in the South China Sea.

With Myanmar as its predecessor in 2014 and then Laos in 2016, there was little reason for either of those countries to push for greater involvement in the disputes because of the risks it would pose to ASEAN unity and their own relations with Beijing.

Brunei, who served as chair in 2013, has always taken a low-profile approach to the maritime disputes, which is also largely a byproduct of its relations with China.

It is likely that the Philippines will advocate a leadership role for ASEAN in managing the South China Sea disputes, but it will not sacrifice ASEAN unity to achieve those aims.

Only half of the ten-member regional grouping has South China Sea claims, so an iron-fisted ASEAN role is far less likely than one that cautiously balances the interests of all its members. For many countries, their relations with Beijing would be a greater priority.”