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ASEAN Leaders Meet to Discuss Cooperation, Burma

ASEAN leaders attend their retreat meeting at the 17th ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, 28 Oct 2010

ASEAN leaders attend their retreat meeting at the 17th ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, 28 Oct 2010

Leaders of Southeast Asian nations opened their talks in Vietnam, focusing on economic and regional integration. Concerns about Burma's controversial elections, and when it will release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi were prominent on the first day.

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung opened the summit by saying the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had contributed greatly to regional stability. He said ASEAN should work closely with its dialogue partners to maintain progress.

"ASEAN should continue to promote and facilitate our partners' deeper engagement and more constructive contributions to their resolution of issues related to peace, security and development in the region while ensuring ASEAN's central role and the support for building the ASEAN community," he said.

The ASEAN leaders are also expected to discuss Burma's controversial elections on November 7th.

The military is guaranteed a quarter of all seats in parliament, has sidelined opposition parties, and denied the vote to millions of ethnic minorities.

In Hanoi Thursday, Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win indicated to diplomats that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest once her sentence ends - just days after the elections.

Philippines presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said his government will welcome her release.

"We heard it only through the media. We haven't gotten any formal communication from them. But, we're hoping that that's true. I mean, it's going to go a long way toward helping the Myanmar government as far as international public opinion is concerned," said Carandang.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won Burma's last elections in 1990 but the military ignored the results and has kept her locked up most of the time since.

The ASEAN heads of state meet Friday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has expressed growing frustration with Burma.

They also hold talks with the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea before being joined Saturday by Australia, India, and New Zealand for the East Asia Summit.

The United States and Russia will attend that gathering as observers and will join as members in 2011.

Carandang said ASEAN leaders would also try to make progress on resolving territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

"We met with Vietnam yesterday and they want to move it forward. We want to move it forward. But, it all depends whether China agrees to be bound by the code of conduct. And, that will be brought up," said Carandang.

Beijing claims the entire South China Sea, putting it in conflict over the Paracel and Spratly islands with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

ASEAN and China have agreed that the disputes should be resolved peacefully but China has often detained Vietnamese fishing boats in the area.

Japan in September detained a Chinese fishing boat in the East China Sea and industry executives say Beijing responded by cutting off exports of important minerals.

Chinese media reports say Beijing also plans to boost its naval presence to protect its territory, raising concerns that it intends to assert its claims using both economic and military force.

ASEAN's members are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.