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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid