KUALA LUMPUR — Earlier this week Southeast Asia’s foreign ministers “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and overflight of the South China Sea,” according to an account given Friday by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. In comments possibly aimed at China, Anifah added that “the ministers remain seriously concerned over the ongoing developments and urged all parties to exercise self restraint.” He added that clearer rules over rights and responsibilities in the South China Sea are needed, including a long discussed but yet to be finalized code of conduct.
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.
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.
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.