World News

China Offers Closer Ties at ASEAN Summit Skipped by Obama

China has offered to improve ties with Southeast Asia using a regional summit to compete for influence with the United States, whose President Barack Obama was notable for his absence.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Brunei on Wednesday, pledging to boost Chinese investment in the region.

Mr. Li also struck a conciliatory tone on long-running maritime disputes with ASEAN members. He said Beijing believes that "a peaceful South China Sea is a blessing for all" and that rival claims to the resource-rich waters should be resolved through talks.

President Barack Obama had planned to meet with ASEAN leaders in Brunei but canceled his attendance to deal with domestic budgetary disputes that led to the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government.

In his place, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the 10 ASEAN leaders after the group ended its talks with China's premier. Kerry apologized to the leaders for Mr. Obama's absence and tried to reassure them about the president's commitment to the decades-old U.S. relationship with Southeast Asian nations.

Kerry said further strengthening U.S.-ASEAN relations in the fields of security, economic links, and people-to-people relationships are a "critical part" of President Obama's goal of "rebalancing" U.S. foreign policy toward Asia.

The top U.S. diplomat also met with Chinese Premier Li on the sidelines of the summit, prompting an exchange of remarks that reflected some tension between the two world powers in their outreach to ASEAN.

Li said he is sure both powers want to live together in "harmony," but repeated China's longstanding position that it is a developing nation cannot be held to the same standards as the United States, the world's most developed country.

Kerry replied by saying "we think you are a little more developed than you may want to say you are, but nevertheless we have the same responsibilities."

U.S. officials said Kerry would press China to accept a long-delayed, legally binding Code of Conduct to help manage the disputes in the South China Sea, where four ASEAN members have competing claims with Beijing.

China is reluctant to discuss the disputes at multinational forums such as ASEAN. Instead, it prefers dealing with each country individually, giving it a much stronger position in any negotiations.

ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines accuse China of using bullying tactics in the South China Sea and have formed closer military alliances with the United States as a result. Beijing has rejected the accusations.

China also denies that it is trying to divide ASEAN. Those accusations intensified following last year's ASEAN meeting in Cambodia, when disagreements over territorial disputes kept the bloc from producing a group statement for the first time in its 45-year history.

Hal Hill, a professor of Southeast Asian economies at the Australian National University, told VOA Beijing partly did use a "divide and rule" strategy in the region at last year's summit. He said many Southeast Asian countries face a tough choice when dealing with China.

"The states adjoining China are very small, very poor countries next to a colossus, so they have to balance the importance of their relations with China, which is of course now the dominant economic and commercial power in the region, along with their attachment to ASEAN."

Hill said he expected ASEAN to form a "broadly united front" against China on the maritime disputes at this year's summit.

Another top goal of the ASEAN summit is to advance talks on a proposed free trade area spanning the entire Southeast Asian region, which is home to over 600 million people. ASEAN hopes to create the common market area by 2015.

Hill said the many different types of economies represented in ASEAN pose challenges for the creation of such a free trade area.

"It includes free trade Singapore along with some communist regimes like Vietnam that have a lot of trade protections. ASEAN can't move and won't move like the European Union, but it will actually I think send a signal that it's open for business with increasingly open frontiers within the 10 (nations)."

Many of the leaders at the ASEAN summit traveled to Brunei directly from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which held an annual two-day meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs