Leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) closed their summit Wednesday with a unanimous call for the West to lift sanctions immediately against Myanmar following that nation’s “free, fair and transparent” by-elections.
“All ASEAN leaders appeal to the relevant parties to lift sanctions,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. “The leaders of ASEAN feel very satisfied and pleased with the election.” ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan added his hope that the traditionally close relationship between North Korea and ASEAN chair Cambodia could reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang’s pending satellite launch, scheduled for mid-April and which was a key issue at the summit, has been widely condemned.
Japan, the United States and other countries fear it could be used to test ballistic missile technology in violation of UN resolutions.
Regarding the summit’s other divisive topic — ongoing tensions between China and four ASEAN nations over competing claims in the South China Sea — Mr. Surin said members would draft a code of conduct between themselves before inviting Beijing to discuss it.
The code of conduct is designed to be a legally binding document between ASEAN and China that would regulate states’ behaviour in an area that has become increasingly tense in recent years.
China lays an all-encompassing claim to the South China Sea, which is a vital shipping lane and believed to be rich in oil and mineral resources. ASEAN members Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also claim overlapping parts of the area.
“The new element that we’ve introduced is that the drafting of the (code of conduct) and the inclusion of the major elements should actually be made by ASEAN internally before China is invited,” Mr. Surin said, adding that the aim was to complete that process this year.
China’s President Hu Jintao visited Cambodia directly ahead of the ASEAN summit, a move some analysts felt was designed to pressure Cambodia to take Beijing’s concerns into account, not least its preference to deal with other claimants on a one-to-one basis rather than with ASEAN as a bloc.
But at the closing press conference Hun Sen angrily denied that, calling the analysts “stupid” and “crazy”, adding that such talk “looked down on the leaders of China ... and of Cambodia.” “Cambodia is not goods to be bought by anyone,” he said.
ASEAN said commitments emanating from the summit should reduce the development gap between its members, garner finance to pay for key projects, better the position of migrant workers, and improve its disaster management response.
The ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.