|ASEAN stumbling on road to single community goal by 2015, Brunei urges political will
Asian leaders began meeting today in Brunei against a backdrop of divisive territorial disputes and flagging free trade efforts.
Opening the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Brunei today, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (pictured) said the outlook for the bloc was positive, but there are challenges to the one community goal.
“Overall the outlook for the ASEAN region remains promising,'' Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said. “Nonetheless, with two years left to go we still face challenges in implementing our community roadmap.''
He also said ASEAN countries “should ensure the region's financial stability as well as be an effective and competitive destination for trade and investment.’’
ASEAN has only two more years to become a European Union-like community but has been struggling to align key infrastructure, trade and policy frameworks to meet the deadline.
The sultan also called for the ASEAN countries to work together in areas such as trade facilitation and logistics to promote business environment in the region.
He added there has been some progress and overall, the ASEAN countries have to continue to solidify their political will in doing what they can do to realize the community goal by 2015.
ASEAN is pushing an ambitious 16-nation free trade zone called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which also involves Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The initiative is seen as rivalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact championed by Washington.
In Brunei, US President Barack Obama's top diplomat John Kerry will shoulder the task of showing support for America's Asian allies, wary over Beijing's uncompromising territorial claims to areas including most of the South China Sea.
China is represented at the gathering by Premier Li Keqiang.
Li said China's relations with the region were at a ''historical starting point.’’
“China will in no way follow the old pattern of 'seeking hegemony after becoming strong','' Li said in an interview published in Brunei media.
Obama had said earlier in the year he planned during the Brunei gathering to lend his presidential prestige to calls for a speedy agreement between China and ASEAN on a code of conduct at sea to avoid accidental conflict.
But analysts said Obama's absence deprives ASEAN the chance to rally behind US power.
“To some degree, [Obama's absence] has lessened the prominence of sovereignty issues in the South China Sea at the summit,'' said Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing.
“And maybe the Chinese role will become more prominent as a result.''
China has succeeded in lowering temperatures by agreeing recently to join with ASEAN in initial talks toward a code of conduct, though some experts view that as a bid to buy time as Beijing continues to build its regional clout.
“[China] is not going to compromise on its claims,'' said Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
China signalled ahead of the meetings that it would not look kindly on attempts to raise sea disputes at an expanded East Asia Summit of 18 nations Thursday, in comments that appeared aimed at Washington.—Xinhua/AFP