The leaders of Southeast Asian nations will meet Wednesday and Thursday to assess progress on an ambitious goal of realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. The quest for a regional economic partnership is one that even ASEAN's Secretariat is acknowledging remains a challenge, especially amid an uncertain global environment.
The summit's host, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, opened the meeting by noting there has been “some progress” towards ASEAN's goal of regional integration of ten economies (Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) in two years’ time.
“But overall, we must continue to show greater political will in doing all we can to realize our community goals by 2015,” said the Sultan.
Another big issue for ASEAN is a maritime code of conduct. It focuses on the territorial dispute involving China and several other member nations regarding navigation of the South China Sea.
The previous ASEAN Summit came close to what analysts termed a diplomatic implosion when the maritime issue prevented the group, for the first time, from issuing a joint communiqué.
This week, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, made it clear while speaking to reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that discussions about the financial crisis faced by Southeast Asia, not the territorial disputes, should be the priority at this year's ASEAN summit.
Hua said “China should make joint efforts to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea without adopting any action that may complicate the situation in the region.”
The ASEAN meeting will be followed on Thursday by the East Asia Summit. Two high profile leaders will not be attending: U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a column published Wednesday in the Brunei Times, former U.S. Ambassador to the Asia Development Bank, Curtis Chin, contends that Obama's absence is contributing to the United States “losing face in Asia” at the expense of China. Chin writes this could lead to a loss of American credibility, power, prestige and influence at a time when Washington is touting a diplomatic “pivot” to Asia.