Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Asean readies for crucial summit meeting

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012 12:30 Mizzima News

President Barack Obama, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will attend the 21st Asean Summit and related summits in Cambodia on Nov. 15-20, Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Monday.

Hor Namhong made the announcement after a meeting with visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

Asean has a wide range of sensitive issues on its agenda, including economic integration of the region, ongoing maritime disputes in the South China Sea, human rights issues and other potentially divisive issues that threaten its effectiveness as an integrate block of countries.

An analysis of Asean’s problems by Murray Hunter on the New Mandala website on Oct. 3 said, “Currently there is an absence of any leader with regional vision within Asean.”

“The leaders of the region don’t appear to have the relationships like their predecessors once had, as emerging democracies and development have their own demands. The club of dictators has gone. Even the pro-Asean Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan who kept the integration momentum going is preparing to hand over the position to a less experienced diplomat from one of the less developed members, potentially leading to a further vacuum in leadership on the issue,” he said.

Hunter said the constituency that one would expect to support an integrated Asean economy, regional conglomerates, appears to still be lukewarm to the concept.

“Although companies like Air Asia, CIMB Bank, Bangkok Bank, SingTel, and Siam Cement are taking advantage of the region as a market, they are the exception. The majority of Asean conglomerates are ethnic Chinese who settled across the region building up their empires along common models of trading, real estate, finance and insurance, retail, and banking activities," he said.
“These firms are well connected in their own countries and haven’t historically done well business wise in countries within the region where their connections are weak. Consequently these firms prefer to diversify business interests within their home country rather than expand across the region."

“The region is way behind schedule in the implementation of the Asean Economic Community. Many unresolved issues concerning agriculture and non-tariff barriers are yet to be resolved. The less developed countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam are also holding back progress," he said. “If the Asean region fails to create an effective and integrated common market in 2015 which is truly competitive, with free flow of skills, and capital, Asean will be severely disadvantaged vis-a-vis China, the US, Japan, and the EU, at a delicate time when the current d├ętente is in flux and transformation.”

Questions about Asean’s unity emerged in media reports after the group failed to issue a Joint Communique after this year’s Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting, following divisive behind the scenes negotiations over the South China Sea maritime dispute involving control over oil and gas energy deposits.

Founded in 1967, Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, plus observer countries.

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