JAKARTA — Marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Nations, or ASEAN for short, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told a gathering of Jakarta-based diplomats that “together with Indonesia, ASEAN is strong.” There is no doubt the region is on the up economically. The ten ASEAN member countries have a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion, bigger than any European country bar Germany, and if growth rates hold up, ASEAN as a whole will be behind only the European Union, China and the United States by 2030. ASEAN countries have committed to increased economic integration, and like the EU, to which ASEAN is often compared, the group has forged free trade agreements — with neighbours such as Australia, China and India. But did the Indonesian president really mean what he said about “strong,” beyond the reference to his own country, which with a population of 260 million is by far the biggest in ASEAN and has an economy more than twice the size of Thailand’s, the second biggest in the region?
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 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched a non-binding human rights code on Sunday in the Cambodian capital, drawing fire from critics who say the declaration fails to meet international standards. Opening the 21st ASEAN Summit on Sunday morning, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the human rights declaration “will further promote peace, security, reconciliation and protection of human rights in the region.” Critics say, however, that the new charter falls far short of what is needed to improve the often deplorable rights records of countries in the region. “Our worst fears in this process have now come to pass. Rather than meeting international standards, this declaration lowers them by creating new loopholes and justifications that ASEAN member states can use to justify abusing the rights of their people,” says Phil Robertson of US-based Human Rights Watch.
DILI — The party of East Timor’s prime minister won the majority of seats this weekend in peaceful parliamentary elections, paving the way for him to form another coalition government as the country faces its second major transition a decade after independence. The elections come at an important juncture for the impoverished half-island country, which celebrated its 10th birthday May 20. The United Nations mission and police are slated to withdraw by 2013, by which time Australian and New Zealand troops who have been stationed there on a separate peacekeeping mission will have departed. These changes will leave the young democracy standing on its own feet, and perhaps in a better position to pursue its goal of joining the regional bloc known as ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “The next five years are crucial for us,” says former President Jose Ramos-Horta.
BANGKOK—The Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) will hold its next meeting in Rangoon this June in another transitional landmark for Burma’s reformist government that nonetheless stands accused of ongoing human rights abuses. Despite conflict between Burmese government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the country’s far north, the AICHR “will resume their discussion at the sixth meeting in [Rangoon], Myanmar on June 3-6, 2012,” after meetings last week in Thailand, according to a press release from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)—the ten-state regional grouping of which Burma assumes the chair in 2014.
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.