News / Asia

Officials: Obama Absence at ASEAN Summit No Snub to Asia

Delegates are seen arriving at this year's ASEAN Summit at the International Conventional Center in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, October 7, 2013.
Delegates are seen arriving at this year's ASEAN Summit at the International Conventional Center in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, October 7, 2013.
The 10  leaders from the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) begin their annual meeting on Wednesday. Heads of government from other countries, such as China, Japan and South Korea, will join them the following day at the East Asia Summit. But this year's meeting will be without U.S. President Barack Obama, who canceled amid the ongoing budget standoff in Washington.

The back-to-back ASEAN and East Asia summits bring the leaders into the same rooms to discuss strategic, political and economic issues of common concern.

President Obama also canceled Asia trips twice in 2010, and some allies are questioning the administration's oft-repeated rhetoric about America's pivot to the Pacific.

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Saturday in Bali, Indonesia, at the APEC economic leaders' meeting that despite Obama's absence at APEC and ASEAN, "I believe the United States still stands tall and will not diminish one iota the influence or the direction that we are fighting to move in."

The former Pacific commander of the U.S. military, retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, says Asians should not look at this latest cancelation by the president as a snub amid the partial shutdown of the U.S. government.

“It's no reflection on Asia that these problems have developed at a time when the president simply can't be outside of Washington for the very long period of time it would take,” says Blair.

The big issue

ASEAN itself is divided on one of its most critical issues: how to approach the disputes involving China and several ASEAN members over atolls in the South China Sea.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says participating countries will likely seek the lowest common denominator.

“Some of them are claimants, some of them are not. Some have very close relations with China and they don't want to upset those relations with China by taking a hard line on the South China Sea. Some countries, like the Philippines and Vietnam, want a very strong, robust and comprehensive code of conduct. So ASEAN has to arrive at a bottom line consensus which keeps all the members happy,” says Storey.

When formal discussions about a maritime code of conduct started between Southeast Asian and Chinese representatives last month, officials from Beijing - according to Storey - “ran rings around” [handily outmaneuvered] ASEAN.

“Although it was reported in the media that this was a breakthrough, in fact it was really a diplomatic victory for China in that they were essentially able to dictate the pace and the scope of future talks. The net results of which is that these consultations will be protracted. They may last one or possibly two, even three years,” says

An associate professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, Wang Dong, says anyone expecting a short-term conclusion is naive.

"Can you imagine that dispute will be resolved in the next year, two, three years? It's impossible because it's so complicated. And it involves so many - China and some of [the] ASEAN countries. And even some other regional countries, like Japan, also want to take advantage of China's disputes with [the] Philippines, with Vietnam. And, similarly, the United States also has a stake in that,” says Wang.

At stake is 80 percent of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims.

At the close of last year's ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh, in-fighting over how to approach the maritime territorial dispute led to the group's failure to issue a joint communique - the first time that had happened in ASEAN's 45-year history.

Professor Wang Jianwei, head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau, notes that Chinese President Xi Jinping has mentioned that China and ASEAN countries share a "common entity with a common destiny." He says this emphasizes that Beijing's relationship with ASEAN countries is much more broad than these disputes over the South China Sea.

As countries head into talks this week, a key issue is whether their maritime territorial disputes will again prove to be a sticking point, despite shared interests in trade and economic growth.

Steve Herman

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

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs