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 British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid