News / Asia

    ASEAN Secretary-General Defends Bloc, Despite Maritime Dispute

    ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan talks to reporters after the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) held on the sidelines of an ASEAN ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, July 12, 2012.
    ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan talks to reporters after the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) held on the sidelines of an ASEAN ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, July 12, 2012.
    In Cambodia’s capital this week, the summit of leaders from Southeast Asian nations made limited progress on the South China Sea dispute. And, a resolution on human rights was criticized as not meeting international standards. But ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan is defending the bloc’s importance, saying there is evidence of progress.

    When Thailand’s Surin Pitsuwan began his term as ASEAN’s chief diplomat in 2008, a brief document that was supposed to be a road map to peace in the South China Sea was already five years old.

    ​Now, with his time as secretary-general drawing to an end, that modest three-page declaration, known as the DOC, has lain mostly dormant while tensions in the maritime dispute continue to simmer.

    “It was a very frustratingly slow process, from the DOC to the guidelines to implement that declaration 10 years ago," he said. "Here at this meeting we issued a joint statement commemorating the issuance of the DOC 10 years ago. But 10 years ago the situation was not the same. It was an issue of concern. But now it’s an issue of tension."

    Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)
    x
    Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)
    Chinese and ASEAN leaders attend the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Cambodia, November 19, 2012. (VOA Khmer/Sophat Soeung)
    The DOC was a broad pledge to resolve the maritime dispute peacefully. The specifics on how to do so were meant to be contained in a Code of Conduct.  However, adopting such a document remains elusive.

    Meanwhile, the issue has erupted into a fiercely political battle, which threatened to split ASEAN earlier this year.

    This week in Phnom Penh, leaders agreed to commemorate the decade-old DOC - another commitment to peace, but not a giant leap forward.

    “Commemorating is one way of trying to maintain the spirit of it, the importance and the significance of it that we have this DOC. And, right now every negotiation, every discussion is based on that piece of agreement called the DOC. Imagine if we don’t have that. Now, it’s going to be even more complicated, so we have DOC, we should be grateful keep it and, based on that document, we can move on. And, we want to move on officially, and openly, as soon as possible.”

    Yet there is no realistic timeline on when ASEAN’s claimants and China, which asserts ownership of a sweeping stretch of the sea, will be able to do so.

    That is a source of criticism for ASEAN as an organization - that it is slow to react;  that it’s reluctant or unable to enact change;  and that its members are perilously reticent to criticize each other.

    But Surin says ASEAN members have evolved.

    Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.
    x
    Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.
    Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.
    “So issues of let’s say reconciliation in Myanmar, when the leaders sat, the first item was, ‘Would Myanmar have anything to share with us? What’s going on in your country?’ That was an absolutely non-issue in the past. You can’t ask questions. You don’t volunteer information. Absolute. ‘It’s my issue, my problem. You don’t need to know.’

    “Well, now people volunteer, people are being asked," he went on to say. "Leaders are being encouraged to share the problems that you have. I think [it is] a natural process. Integration will bring down that rigidity.”

    Surin says Burma, at first, did not want to publicly comment on the Rohingya issue. In the end, ASEAN chair Cambodia included a brief paragraph about the ongoing ethnic tension in Burma’s Rakhine State in its final statement - the official record of discussions and decisions taken during the summit.

    Its pledges of regional humanitarian support were a watered-down offering. But, Surin says even five years ago, merely acknowledging the problem in a public way could have been unthinkable.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora