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.
TEXT SIZE - +
— 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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid