China Sea tensions, economic integration to dominate Asean summit
NAY PYI Taw, Myanmar (Burma) – Tensions over the South China Sea and regional economic integration are high on the agenda of the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during their summit here in the next two days.
Myanmar, a known friendly neighbor of China with over 2,200 kilometers of common boundary, for the first time chairs the Asean at a time when China has aggressively asserted its claim over the entire South China Sea.
The resource-rich South China Sea, the location of crucial shipping routes, is claimed partially by the Philippines (which refers to part of the waters as the West Philippine Sea), Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei which are Asean members, and by Taiwan which is not part of Asean, and claimed wholly by China.
After the formal opening of the 25TH Asean Summit, the leaders’ plenary session followed at 10:30 a.m. (12 noon in Manila) at the Myanmar International Convention Center Ruby Hall.
The plenary session was expected to take at least two-hours-and-a-half as President Benigno Aquino III and the nine other Asean heads of state were to make speeches.
“At the summit, regional and international issues of common interest and concern will be on top of the agenda, especially those that have significant impact on peace and stability in the region such as the South China Sea issue,” the Asean Secretariat said in a statement after the summit formally opened.
This is the first time the President will face his fellow Asean leaders, especially rival claimant-nations, since the Philippines haled China to a United Nations arbitral tribunal last March to assert the supremacy of international maritime rules against China’s insistence on what it says are its historic claims.
Due to its tradition of consensus, Asean has not been unequivocal in adopting a group position on the South China Sea conflict and has not yet adopted a Code of Conduct to prevent the escalation of tensions.
China has refused to engage Asean as a group to discuss the proposed South China Sea Code of Conduct and has insisted on bilateral talks with each claimant.
In his welcome speech, Myanmar President Thein Seine alluded to the Philippines’ call for peaceful settlement of the dispute through respect of international maritime law when he urged his counterparts to promote a “rules-based and norm-based” Asean.
“We need to sustain efforts in promoting the culture of compliance to the established rules and norms of Asean and to promote them to a broader extent. Rules-based and norm-based Asean will elevate our stature and transparency which are key to build confidence and trust among ourselves and with our partners,” the Myanmar leader said.
“This in turn will foster peace, stability and security in the region and beyond, and bring economic development and social harmony,” he added.
The Asean Secretariat said the leaders would also have an “in-depth discussion on the future directions of the Asean Community beyond 2015,” referring to Asean economic integration that will start in December next year.
The leaders will issue a joint statement on climate change, it said.
“Further, an important topic on the table is configuring the best approaches to position Asean strategically amid the shifting regional landscape both in terms of geo-economics and geo-politics,” the Asean Secretariat said, alluding to China’s emergence as a regional and global superpower.
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