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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More