Bagan, Myanmar – It was the first big meeting of Myanmar’s first year as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a conclave of the region’s foreign ministers held last week in the temple-strewn surroundings of Bagan, on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in north-central Myanmar. “We will be discussing with our fellow ASEAN countries how to achieve the ASEAN community by 2015,” Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin said before the meeting, referring to one of the big challenges facing Myanmar in its role as chair of the association. The minister was speaking poolside at the lavish Aureum Palace Hotel, where a bridal suite-villa in the middle of Bagan’s temples goes for US$1,000 a night. The location was clearly chosen to impress. Bagan, a tourist draw where some 10,000 temples stood at the height of a 13th century Burmese kingdom, is certainly eye-catching at dusk when the red and brown pagodas merge, in the dust and haze, with the glowing sunset behind the Irrawaddy.
BANDAR SERI BAGAWAN — The pre-summit chat was all about the absence of Barack Obama, but when pressed, Asian governments were quick to suggest that they had bigger concerns than the embattled American President’s no-show, with an October 17 deadline for the U.S. to raise its ‘debt ceiling’ hanging over the various summit meetings held in the Brunei capital earlier this week. American lawmakers have yet to cut a deal to raise Washington’s mammoth $16.7 trillion borrowing limit, the ‘debt ceiling, ‘which is set to expire on October 17. The stand-off forced the closure of much of the U.S. government and prompted President Obama to cancel his planned visits to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. And while the government shutdown has prompted worldwide bemusement, the looming debt crisis has left Asia’s emerging economies nervous about the unheralded knock-on effects that could come about – if the U.S. ends up defaulting on its debt. Around 60% of China’s foreign currency reserves are thought to be American assets, so Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s words to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – that “China is highly concerned with the United States’ debt ceiling issue,” according to a report in by the state-run China News Service – are no surprise.
BANDAR SERI BAGAWAN — At the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and related summits in Brunei-Darussalam this week, there has seemingly been scant mention of the ongoing sectarian violence in Burma, which will chair the bloc for the first time in 2014. Asked if the issue had come up during the course of the various meetings and summits ongoing in Brunei, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa told The Irrawaddy, “Not to my recollection, except at the Asean meeting, when the Myanmar delegation briefed us on the situation in their country.”
YANGON — On the face of it, it was no more or less successful than most other meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), save for the occasional cabaret performances such as last year’s gathering in Cambodia, where the hosts infuriated fellow ASEAN member-states – particularly the Philippines and Vietnam – by peddling China’s line on the disputed South China Sea. Ahead of the grander East Asia Summit to be held nearer the end of the year, ASEAN foreign ministers and counterparts from world powers such as China, Japan, Russia and the United States gathered in the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei early this week to discuss security and the economy. With just over two years to go before the proposed establishment in 2015 of the ASEAN Economic Community – a regional version of the old European Common Market – the talks in Brunei were overshadowed by a range of issues, from the ceaseless brutality of the civil war in Syria to fugitive American whistleblower Edward Snowden to what to do about North Korea.
PHNOM PENH – The disputed South China Sea is once again prompting internal divisions in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with host Cambodia and the Philippines offering differing accounts of the bloc’s discussions of the issue in recent days. ASEAN chair and host of the ongoing East Asia Summit Cambodia says that ASEAN countries agreed not to “internationalise’ the Sea issue, prompting the Philippines to contend that no such consensus had been agreed. China claims most of the South China Sea as part of its territorial waters, putting it at odds with Vietnam and the Philippines, both of whom have claims on parts of the sea and to some islands in the contested waters. On Sunday, Kao Kim Hourn, a Cambodian government spokesperson, told media that Southeast Asian leaders “had decided that they will not internationalize the South China Sea from now on.”