News / Asia

ASEAN Hopes to Improve Unity During Summit

ASEAN foreign ministgers pose for group photo in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 12, 2012.
ASEAN foreign ministgers pose for group photo in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 12, 2012.
Irwin Loy
World leaders congregate this week in Cambodia for high-level meetings of the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations. Analysts say ASEAN members will try to present a more united front after divisive meetings in July ended in embarrassment.  But hot-button issues, including a key maritime dispute and human rights concerns, will continue to test ASEAN’s resolve.

Stumbling blocks

July’s ministerial summit in Phnom Penh could hardly have gone worse for officials hoping for a show of unity among the diverse 10-member bloc. The meetings stumbled over the contentious issue of competing claims to the South China Sea. Cambodia, this year’s chair, was accused of siding with its powerful benefactor, China.

This leaders’ summit, then, may be an opportunity for Cambodia to find some redemption in the eyes of its critics, before it gives up the chair for the year.

Carlyle Thayer, an analyst on ASEAN affairs with the University of New South Wales, says ASEAN members will aim to avoid a repeat of July’s stalemate.

“So the worst thing Cambodia can do is try to exert a strong influence against where the currents are going," Thayer says. "This is their last moment of glory-to go out being looked at well. The point is there's nothing further they can really do for China.”

The Philippines, one of four ASEAN members with competing claims to the South China Sea, along with China and Taiwan, will almost certainly raise the issue again. But Thayer says it’s just as certain that China and ASEAN will be unable to strike a deal in the coming days on a long-awaited Code of Conduct to sort out the claims.

“In the South China Sea, it's what spin will be put on where they're at, where ASEAN has reached agreement and saying bland things, congratulatory things about China and making progress. But there will be no Code of Conduct approved,” Thayer explains.

Burma

But it is far from the only issue that will provoke debate. Ongoing tensions in Burma’s Rakhine state continue to be a stumbling block on the country’s much-publicized road to reforms.

Some observers say this could also be an opportunity for ASEAN to show it can resolve conflicts, which has long been a question mark for a group with a reputation for being reluctant to criticize its own members.

“I think this could be an issue that will rescue ASEAN, if Myanmar [Burma] would like to play along … it could be good for ASEAN, because this will be the issue about the protection of human rights, and ASEAN already has the human rights commission, which has been criticized of doing nothing in the last few years," says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a political analyst at Kyoto University. "This could be the chance for the human rights commission to come, basically not to point fingers at anyone, but to just do what ASEAN does best: coming to educate, to raise awareness and to urge the government to do something.”

Still, Burma has resisted recent efforts to treat the problem as anything more than an internal issue.

Human rights

The coming meetings will more likely see the bloc move ahead with cementing a declaration on human rights. Critics say previous drafts of the document have been insufficient.

But anticipation for the leaders’ summit will be focused on the big names expected to attend. That will include U.S. President Barack Obama, whose scheduled visit would mark the first appearance of a sitting American head of state in Cambodia.

Obama’s presence will see a continued focus on U.S. objectives in the region as part of a so-called “pivot” to Asia and China’s reaction to renewed American interests in its backyard.

Ernie Bower, with Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Obama, well aware of suspicions in China, will seek to downplay the narrative of a U.S. “containment” strategy for China.

“The whole idea of a China area of influence and a U.S. area of influence and forcing countries to choose is exactly not what the United States wants to be about,” Bower says.

Most countries in attendance will be looking to build on trade ties with ASEAN members. But the United States could be left out when the bloc officially launches negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which could eventually lead to a free trade area including all of ASEAN, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid