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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs