By Kurt Stanton (GNLM)
Nay Pyi Taw, 12 Nov—Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathered here on Wednesday for the 25th summit of the regional grouping, being held in Myanmar’s new capital for only the second time.
The heads of state and government of the 10-member association discussed a number of issues including the ASEAN Community slated to go online in 2015, territorial issues in the South China Sea, the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, and the spread of the Ebola virus.
They adopted the Nay Pyi Taw Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision and the Declaration on Strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing the ASEAN Organs and the ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change at the 25th ASEAN Summit.
In his opening address at the Myanmar International Convention Center, Myanmar President U Thein Sein, chairman of this year’s summit, highlighted the importance of ensuring the realization of a “politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible ASEAN Community.”
The president pointed out that despite uncertainties in the global economy, ASEAN’s domestic growth is growing “and economic growth remains strong at 5% with positive projections in coming years.”
U Thein Sein said ASEAN will continue to broaden its external relations that will bring benefit to the ASEAN Community.
“It is time for us to consider strategically in expanding our external relations with potential trading and investment partners. We should also look into ways to engage more with G-20 and emerging global economies, namely BRICS and markets in other regions,” he said, referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
However, in addition to natural disasters and external factors such as global economic uncertainty, the president said the spread of the Ebola virus from West Africa and extremism are also challenging ASEAN.
He called the coming ASEAN Community a “new beginning for a new ASEAN calling for greater unity and integration, enhanced operation efficiency, better cooperation, stronger resilience and greater competitiveness of the community.”
The ASEAN Community will create a single market and production base for the ASEAN region, allowing for the free movement of goods, services, investment and capital, as well as skilled labour among its members.
But before entering that next level of integration, he said ASEAN needs to “sustain efforts in promoting a culture of compliance to the established rules and norms of ASEAN and to promote them to a broader extent.”
“Rules-based and norm-based ASEAN will elevate our stature and transparency, which are key to building confidence and trust among ourselves and with our partners,” he said.
The president also said the grouping needs to have a strategy to promote its “central role in existing regional mechanisms and in evolving regional architecture.”
In addition, U Thein Sein said ASEAN needs to “sustain economic dynamism by intensifying integration and pursuing a sustainable development path that would guarantee inclusive development, reduce poverty and narrow the development gaps.”
The president in his speech did not specifically touch on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
However, on the spat between China and the Philippines, Philippine President Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters that Manila’s position has “gained traction” among other ASEAN members.
“It has gained acceptance because it has been acknowledged by all the other member countries and it is something that all the countries of ASEAN are willing to recognize as an important regional issue,” he said.
“It’s up to all the concerned parties to do what is needed in order to promote peace-building in a more complete way ,” he added.
The issue is certain to be raised at the ASEAN-China summit scheduled to be held Thursday.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including islands and other land features claimed by the ASEAN members Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan O-cha are attending their first ASEAN summit.
By Kurt Stanton (GNLM)