Southeast Asia Nations, China Bring Rift to Summit

Amid tensions in the South China Sea between China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, other Southeast Asian Nations are split over how they should deal with the region. China has recently called for peace while the Philippines and Vietnam have developed stronger military ties with each other as well as with the United States due to China’s growing power. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The Philippines is leading a push within the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations to take a united stand over regional maritime disputes, including the Spratlys, which is in one of the world’s busiest stretches of water.

But a four-day visit to Cambodia by the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, before a summit of ASEAN leaders here has reinforced Beijing’s stand that ASEAN should not formally discuss the dispute or adopt a joint legally-binding position without its involvement.

”On the code of conduct, it is important for ASEAN to first agree among themselves on the draft text before meeting with China,” the Philippine Foreign Secretary, Albert del Rosario, said.

”Others [ASEAN nations] are taking the view that China should be allowed to come in for the initial discussions,” he said.

According to the Associated Press, China has rejected the proposal that they should negotiate with the bloc nations and have stated that they prefer one-on-one talks with each nation:

Chinese officials, who were not present at the Phnom Penh meetings, have relayed a proposal for the setting up of a 10-member group of experts and prominent statesmen that can help think of solutions, but Vietnam and the Philippines outrightly rejected the idea, according to two Southeast Asian diplomats involved in the discussions.

Despite differences, Surin said it was a sign of progress that China was willing to join ASEAN in discussing ways to solve the disputes.

“There may be some variation of opinions but I think on the whole, we’re moving in the direction of engaging very actively on the issue,” Surin said. “I think it’s very important to reassure the world that we can manage our differences.”

Aside from the disputed South China Sea, North Korea’s planned missile launch and Myanmar’s recent elections are expected to dominate the ASEAN talks. Business Week adds:

ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting ahead of their leaders, expressed alarm over the North Korean rocket launch. U.S. officials say the rocket is actually a test of long-range missile technology and that parts could fall in Southeast Asia. North Korea insists it is planning to place a peaceful observation satellite into orbit sometime between April 12 and 16.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario raised “grave concern” over the launch, while Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it would damage chances for a resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Surin said a wave of reforms in Myanmar in recent months, including a by-election Sunday that appears to have sent pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament, are a welcome change. Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin gave an upbeat assessment of the election. “It was free, fair and transparent,” he told The Associated Press in Phnom Penh.