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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid