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.
HANOI – China’s rise has altered the dynamics within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and across Asia, as was on display at recently concluded summits meetings in Hanoi. Chinese naval expansion and increasingly assertive claims to disputed maritime areas in the East and South China Seas has prompted Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and others to reaffirm their enthusiasm for America’s security umbrella after some ambivalence in recent years. Japan and India, China’s main Asian rivals, are increasingly looking to each other, and to Southeast Asia, as a hedge against China’s rise, which has taken a hard turn in recent months. Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Manmohan Singh met after the Hanoi summits, which were overshadowed by the mud-slinging coming from the Chinese and Japanese delegations. “Prime Minister Kan was keen to understand how India engages China,” India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao said after that meeting. As well as increasing ties with Japan, India’s slow-to-action ‘Look East’ policy, which has brought the self-proclaimed world’s largest democracy into disrepute over its feting of the Myanmar junta, is likely to be enhanced in coming years, as highlighted in the statement issued after the India-ASEAN summit.
HANOI – Great power rivalries, including US-China chest-thumping on a wide range of political, economic and security issues, look set to dominate this weekend’s Asian summits set inside the bleak, socialist-cliché trappings of Hanoi’s imposing National Convention Center. The immediate focus of the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, with regional leaders in attendance, will be Myanmar’s first elections in two decades scheduled for November 7. As ever, the military-ruled country has added an edginess to the typically anodyne proceedings, where attention to the ephemera sometimes borders on the absurd. Two days after Robert Kelley, a former International Atomic Energy Agency official, called on ASEAN to take the lead in addressing an alleged nuclear weapons program in Myanmar, one of the three official summit press statements released by ASEAN at time of writing was devoted to the issuing a commemorative stamp by host country Vietnam.
GEORGE TOWN — Church burnings, pigs’ heads left outside mosques, cows’ heads paraded in protest at a Hindu temple relocation site, canings for Malay Muslims caught drinking alcohol and having extramarital sex — these are some of the lurid headline-grabbers to come out of Malaysia in recent months. Elections in 2008 saw the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lose its dominant two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time since Malaysian independence. An opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party made significant gains, and in September 2008 seemed to be on the brink of persuading government MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to cross the house and vote against the BN. That did not happen, however, and while the opposition has won a number of significant by-election victories at national and local levels, it has not been able to launch a final push to dethrone the UMNO-led BN.