News / Asia

China Offers Closer Ties at ASEAN Summit Skipped by Obama

China's Premier Li Keqiang delivers his opening speech at the 16th ASEAN-China Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Oct. 9, 2013.
China's Premier Li Keqiang delivers his opening speech at the 16th ASEAN-China Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Oct. 9, 2013.
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.

Friendly message

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 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.

"I assure you that these events in Washington are a moment in politics and not more than that," Kerry said.

Providing reassurance

The top U.S. diplomat also tried to reassure ASEAN about Mr. Obama's commitment to the decades-old U.S. relationship with Southeast Asian nations.

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

US-China tension

Mr. 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 that 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."

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Kerry emphasized that he would meet every head of government who would have sat down with Mr. Obama had he made the trip. Kerry even had one additional meeting scheduled with Burmese President Thein Sein.

Maritime disputes

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

A senior State Department official told reporters en route to Brunei that Kerry would stress America's role "as an advocate for the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation, and the principle of unimpeded lawful commerce."

Reporters asked ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh about progress on the Code of Conduct. In reply, he referred to recent discussions in China between ASEAN and Chinese officials.

"The consultations will continue," he said. "And we hope that with the efforts on both sides, realizing that peace and stability in the region is necessary, not only for ASEAN but for all countries in the region including China, we will achieve tangible progress."

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.

China's strategy

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, where 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, said Beijing partly did use a "divide and rule" strategy 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," he said.

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

Free trade

ASEAN members also were hoping to advance talks on a proposed free trade area spanning the entire Southeast Asian region, which is home to more than 600 million people. ASEAN wants 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," he said. "ASEAN can't move and won't move like the European Union, but I think it will send a signal that it's open for business with increasingly open frontiers within the 10 [nations]."

Lipin reported from Washington and Herman reported from Brunei. Victor Beatie also contributed to this report.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs