News / Asia

Southeast Asian Nations Aim to Restore Unity at Annual Summit

Workers prepare the venue for the upcoming ASEAN Summit at the new Brunei's Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 23, 2013.
Workers prepare the venue for the upcoming ASEAN Summit at the new Brunei's Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 23, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
— Leaders of Southeast Asia are gathering in Brunei this week for an annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The regional group is trying to move forward with plans for economic integration and repair divisions about disputed territory with China in the South China Sea.

ASEAN has set a deadline to form an economic community, similar to the European Union, by the end of 2015.

Although countries have reduced many tariffs in anticipation of the merger, some analysts question whether the region will be fully prepared to handle the freer flow of goods, services and labor.

Rodolfo Severino, a former ASEAN secretary general and now heads the ASEAN Studies Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, cautions those who say economic integration is moving too slowly.

"Some people are very impatient. They consider ASEAN should immediately transform its own domestic processes to achieve economic integration. Well, it's not going to happen," he said.

Southeast Asian countries have recorded solid economic growth despite the global slowdown.  But there are concerns whether the region’s highly developed economies, such as Singapore and Brunei, can successfully integrate with nations only recently opening up to outside investment and foreign trade, such as Laos and Burma.

ASEAN members also include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Repairing divisions

ASEAN leaders are also expected to work on repairing divisions that surfaced during last year's meetings in Phnom Penh.

Host Cambodia sided with China to prevent a statement of concern about Beijing's aggressive claims on territory in the South China Sea.

It was the first time in ASEAN's 45-year history that it failed to issue a chairman's statement outlining the group consensus.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with overlapping claims by Taiwan as well as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"Last year was a set-back for ASEAN in terms of its division.  But, this year, as we can see from the outcome from the result of the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting preparing for the summit, we can see that ASEAN has come up with a common position once again," said Prapat Thepchatree, director of Bangkok's Center for ASEAN Studies at Thammasat University

ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Brunei, earlier this month, agreed to pursue dialogue with China on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

China has asserted its claims for the South China Sea's rich mineral, oil and fishing grounds by increasing patrols and escorts for its fishing fleets. The ships’ excursions regularly raise regional tensions.

ASEAN wants a legally binding agreement to discourage such aggressive moves. It would replace a ten-year pledge by the claimants not to cause conflict, known as the Declaration of Conduct.

Despite the ongoing territorial tensions, political analysts say ASEAN host Brunei is likely to return to the tradition of consensus and instead focus on agreements related to economics and trade.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

Although last year's ASEAN summits in Cambodia were marred by tensions with China, one success was a free trade initiative known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The RCEP is considered a rival to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership as they both include ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea.

But, unlike the TPP, the RCEP includes China, the world's second largest economy and biggest trading nation.

Political analyst Prapat dismisses suggestions the rival agreements are proxy trade wars between China and the U.S.

"You can see that the U.S. is the core of the TPP, is the leader of the TPP, this is very clear.  But, for the ASEAN FTA, it is not very clear that China is going to be the leader of the ASEAN FTA.  But, instead, ASEAN is going to be the core.  ASEAN [is] going to be on the driver's seat of the ASEAN FTA," said Prapat.

The RCEP grouping includes nations that account for some three billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of some $20 trillion. The agreement will cover trade in goods and services, processes for resolving disputes, protecting intellectual property rights and other issues.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid