News / Asia

    ASEAN Summit Draft Statement Includes Potential South China Sea Sticking Points

    FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama, right, delivers remarks at the US-ASEAN meeting at the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2015.
    FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama, right, delivers remarks at the US-ASEAN meeting at the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2015.

    A key agreement on U.S. and Asian engagement could include controversial references to maritime navigation and militarization.

    According to an early draft of a document obtained by VOA Khmer, ASEAN leaders and President Barack Obama are discussing a set of points to be known as the “Sunnylands Principles," during a summit at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California.

    The unprecedented engagement with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states is seen as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to counter the influence of a rising China.

    The early draft given to VOA Khmer by a diplomat appears to be a precursor to a joint statement that could be released at the end of the two-day meeting Tuesday.   

    It is unclear to what extent agreement has been reached on the draft’s principals. The draft begins by saying the United States and ASEAN “take this opportunity to reaffirm the key principles that will guide our cooperation going forward.”

    It affirms the two sides’ commitment to free trade and to building “stronger democracies, good governance, promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the promotion of tolerance and moderation.”

    The draft principles appear to back a multilateral approach to dispute resolution, including “respect for ASEAN centrality as a guiding principle in shaping the multilateral architecture of the Asia-Pacific,” as one of the draft principles.

    There are clear inferences to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea between ASEAN nations and China.

    When asked about a joint statement that included references to the South China Sea, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. will continue to work with ASEAN partners on a potential issue that may be raised together.

    "It won't be focused primarily on the South China Sea and in it we consistently underscore our shared and the necessity of the resolve through peaceful and legal means," she added.  

    China and its ally in the region Cambodia have previously rejected calls from Vietnam and the Philippines for these disputes to be solved through ASEAN.  China prefers to deal with disputed islands and atolls bilaterally with smaller nations.

    Key principles in the draft affirm "peaceful resolution of disputes, including through arbitration, in accordance with international law" and "the importance of unimpeded lawful commerce, including the rights of freedom of navigation and over-flight as described in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as a commitment to non-militarization."

    Cambodia and neighboring Laos, which have received large amounts of financial aid from China in recent years, could find themselves in a tricky position if asked to commit to these principles.

    John Ciorciari, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan who studies Southeast Asia, told VOA Khmer the increased U.S. engagement with ASEAN, embodied by the Sunnylands summit, gave individual leaders like Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen leverage, since ASEAN’s internal policies require consensus among the 10 states to commit to any action, including the issuance of a joint statement.

    “U.S. officials want Cambodia not to block consensus when a majority of ASEAN members favor diplomatic language or action asserting a common stand on the South China Sea,” Ciorciari said. “In the past, especially when chairing ASEAN in 2012, Cambodia has been accused of serving as a Chinese lackey and keeping ASEAN from taking collective positions unfavorable to Beijing."

    The United States has been accused of taking a soft line on human rights issues in Southeast Asia as it seeks to build its strategic position in the region. Critics have remarked that handing Hun Sen the credibility of an official visit to the United States would embolden the long-serving prime minister at a time when opposition leader Sam Rainsy has recently been forced back into exile.

    On Thursday, U.S. National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes publicly raised concerns about the political climate in Cambodia, according to the Associated Press.

    But Peter Maguire, a legal scholar and long-time Cambodia researcher, noted the criticism of Hun Sen’s government just before the Sunnylands summit came from Rhodes, rather than Secretary of State John Kerry, meaning human rights in Cambodia were not a foreign policy priority.

    “The U.S. obviously wants Cambodia and the ASEAN nations to stand firm against Chinese territorial claims. However, given Cambodia’s relationship with China, why would they bite the hand that has fed them so generously?” Maguire asked. “Love him or hate him, Hun Sen has forgotten more about realpolitik than the entire Obama administration will ever know. When they were in diapers, he was on the battlefield.”

    White House Correspondent Mary Alice Salinas contributed to this report.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    by: Benjamin Richards from: Bangkok
    February 16, 2016 1:23 PM
    It seems that China is the only country in the world that have significant Territorial Disputes with virtually every major neighbor … Russia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, India, and several ASEAN nations …

    They already gobbled up Tibet when the world was exhausted after WWII and wage a slow bleed cultural genocide on minorities like the Uighurs … If we allow them to gobble up an entire sea – a global maritime commons that belongs to ALL people – they will just be Emboldened to keep on going … China’s general attitude is shockingly amateurish, for a wannabe superpower, at least the Soviets were mature and logical.

    by: gman
    February 15, 2016 10:50 PM
    The real fact here in South china sea is that China started all of these serious provocation by building Fake islands near or in the INTERNATIONAL SEA LANE. Controlling was the main objective of China. China as a communist country has a solid control of their news and people and now they want to control the SCS with their dubious claims in SCS based on their nine dashline map created by its own people. They even claims their own history and disregarding other country's history on south china sea 
    China is so greedy that it has drawn a map too close to other countries. 
    No single country should own the South China sea and support it with bogus claims.
    China is just a bully, greedy, selfish and deceitful country. 
    South china sea must govern by laws not China's might. Period.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    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.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora