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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid