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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs