News / Asia

Southeast Asian Nations, Partners to Discuss Regional Security

The flags of member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are pictured in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 24, 2013.
The flags of member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are pictured in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 24, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners are gathering in Brunei for a three-day meeting beginning June 29.  The ASEAN meetings are expected to discuss a range of security and economic issues. 

Top diplomats representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 16 Western and Asian countries, and the European Union will meet in Brunei, a sultanate on the Malaysian island of Borneo.

The three-day ASEAN Regional Forum will address concerns about security issues in the Asia Pacific as well as political and economic cooperation.

North Korea on the agenda

Analysts say tensions on the Korean peninsula are likely to be discussed. North Korea, in February, tested a third nuclear device and then, a month later, threatened nuclear war against South Korea and the United States.

Representatives from all three countries usually attend the regional forum.

Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says while nuclear concerns are a priority, South China Sea tensions are more of an ASEAN focus.

“Undoubtedly, they'll also discuss the nuclear proliferation situation in North Korea.  But, I think the issue really to watch is the discussion on the South China Sea.  Because, last year they met in Cambodia when Cambodia was the chair and talks broke down pretty badly when the ASEAN foreign ministers, for the first time in history, couldn't come up with a consensus statement,” said Hiebert.

The South China Sea issue

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

Cambodia's tight relations with China were blamed for ASEAN's failing to start negotiations with Beijing on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The Code of Conduct is meant to regulate how claimants behave in disputed seas to prevent any flare-ups that could lead to armed conflict.

Thailand has been coordinating relations between ASEAN and China, but has made little progress on the issue.  Political analysts say Thailand, as a non-claimant ASEAN member, could be a credible broker, but has not been active enough.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, says Thailand is in a difficult diplomatic situation.

"On the other hand you have China, which is a resident superpower.  Thailand is very close to China.  So, somehow this balancing act.  It's difficult enough to achieve a balancing act but to achieve it and to promote and achieve a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea…is not easy," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

Beijing has been dragging its feet on the negotiations and in recent years has more aggressively supported its territorial claims with patrol boats and escorts for its fishing vessels.

Increased competition for the South China Sea's rich fishing grounds and fossil fuels has led to occasional clashes and arrests of fishermen.

Vietnam last month demanded compensation after a Chinese ship collided with one of its fishing boats.  In March Hanoi accused a Chinese ship of firing on fishermen near the disputed Paracel Islands.  Both countries claim the Paracels but Beijing has controlled the islands since naval clashes with Vietnam in the 1970s.

Ships from the Philippines and China faced off last month in the Spratly islands.  Similar tensions between the two last year lasted for months and raised the possibility of the U.S. getting involved because of a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.

The U.S. declared a national interest in maintaining peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

U.S. participation

The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, is expected to attend the ASEAN meetings in Brunei for the first time. 

Political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak says Kerry is entering a trickier situation than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.

"The South China Sea is now much hotter than it was under Clinton.  So, it's more challenging for the U.S. to play a role as a staying power, an honest broker, with friends and allies in the region, without antagonizing China, which is a rising power," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

At separate meetings in Brunei, ASEAN ministers are expected to focus on challenges to economic integration. 

ASEAN's ten member nations plan to form an economic community by the end of 2015 by lowering barriers to labor flows and trade.

But, Hiebert says while ASEAN claims 74 percent completion, some members are slowing down progress.  He says Indonesia, ASEAN's biggest economy, has introduced protectionist measures over the last couple years that make it difficult to import foreign agricultural products. 

“So, one of the toughest issues is, of course, how are you going to deal with the largest economy, which is, you know, basically half the GDP of Southeast Asia.  And, then you have the much poorer countries-Burma/Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia that are really very far behind and don't really have the technical, the personnel capabilities," he said.

Hiebert says Brunei is under pressure to make progress this year as Burma will take the ASEAN chair in 2014.  Many worry the reforming country may be overstretched and unable to push as much forward in the ASEAN agenda.

Brunei will host a final round of ASEAN summit meetings in October with East Asia leaders plus Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

ASEAN's ten members are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs