Recovery from the global economic crisis and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will be on the agenda as Asian leaders huddle at a Thai beach resort for an annual summit on Saturday.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be joined by those from China, Japan, South Korea. India, Australia and New Zealand will also join in the weekend meetings.
The ASEAN bloc is to follow up on China’s $25 billion initiative to promote infrastructure development in Southeast Asia, Japan’s program on the use of efficient energy, and a $100 million South Korean project to help the region respond to climate change, conference documents said.
As at previous summits, a call for North Korea to give up its program and return to disarmament talks is expected, as well as some details on how ASEAN plans to realize its goal of economic integration by 2015.
When the summit opened on Friday, the bloc unveiled the region’s first human rights commission, but it was immediately derided as toothless by activists who pointed out that its mandate did not extend to prosecution of violators like Myanmar, an ASEAN member. The activists were also angered by the exclusion of several members of civil society from the summit.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva described it as “a significant milestone” in the 42-year history of ASEAN.
The group has traditionally steered clear of rights issues because of its reluctance to meddle in the internal affairs of member nations.
“It is a big shame to our dreams for genuine democracy in the region. It’s like all of the human rights of the people in this region have been violated,” said Sister Crescenia L. Lucero, a leading rights advocate and Roman Catholic nun.
ASEAN’s 10 member countries include military-run Myanmar, communist-run Laos and Vietnam plus several countries whose governments routinely persecute opposition parties or political activists.
Members of ASEAN have recently escalated their criticism of Myanmar, particularly over the detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who Saturday will have spent 14 years in detention, most of it under house arrest.
The summit will again likely act by consensus, avoid confrontations and maintain that the group’s approach to engaging Myanmar works better than the West’s sanctions and threats.
The opening of the summit Friday came with only half of the region’s leaders in attendance for various reasons, including a tropical storm, domestic politics, a VIP visit and a possible illness.