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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs