Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 06/27/2013 16:17 | By Channel NewsAsia

ASEAN Economic Community 2015, South China Sea disputes expected to dominate Brunei meet

ASEAN Economic Community 2015, South China Sea disputes expected to dominate Brunei meet


ASEAN Economic Community 2015, South China Sea disputes expected to dominate Brunei meet

SINGAPORE: ASEAN's vision of an economic community 2015 and a Code of Conduct to resolve disputes in the South China Sea are two key issues expected to dominate when ASEAN foreign ministers and their dialogue partners meet in Brunei this weekend.

The regional haze problem is also expected to be on the cards.

The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Brunei begins on June 30 and will end with the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit involving the grouping's dialogue partners on July 2.

ASEAN ministers will also have meetings with their Plus Three Partners - namely the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea.

Last year's ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Cambodia saw the foreign ministers failing to issue a joint communique due to differences on the South China Sea issue.

This year, under Brunei's chairmanship, discussions are expected to be more focused.

Mr K Shanmugam, Singapore's Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, said: "By maintaining unity and centrality, ASEAN as a body is taken more and more seriously as evidenced by the interest shown by the big powers, our dialogue partners. More countries have become dialogue partners.

"It doesn't mean it's a smooth ride. Last year, ASEAN had a difficult year. ASEAN centrality and unity will be severely tested as ASEAN has become a region where the interests of the different powers may diverge. We just have to deal with it, be realistic and deal with it."

On the South China Sea disputes, political watchers hope they don't become an impediment for peace in Asia.

Prof Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: "ASEAN's proposal for a Code of Conduct is the key part here. The ASEAN ministers have previously reinforced the principles for the Code of Conduct and China's new foreign minister has been to four countries in the region to start talking about how should we proceed, what's the framework like, and what really is the sentiment. 

"Because China has a fair concern, it does not want to be singled out and ganged up by the 10 ASEAN countries... they are concern we will all take the same position as the Philippines. The Philippines of course has concerns that they don't want our brothers abandoning us, so the ASEAN countries are in between, and like Singapore, need to find some balance and some neutrality to deal with this issue."

The first meeting to discuss the Code of Conduct has started, but progress is slow.

Mr Shanmugam said: "We are talking about a long process, the Code of Conduct, it requires detail negotiations, we have started on it. You cannot pretend that these things, you meet once, and hey we have reached a deal, or suddenly with a magic wand, you achieve something.

"It will take a long time, there will be ups and downs, there will be differences on where their national interests lie, we must expect a topsy-turvy situation and that is why it is necessary for us to be very clear what our interests are and try and keep plugging away at that."

Another burning issue is the haze problem.

Mr Shanmugam emphasised that it's not unique to Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia - but a regional one too.

Mr Shanmugam will be accompanied by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who is also Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

The ministers will also take stock of ASEAN's road towards the economic community vision of 2015 and the progress in realising the mega-free trade agreement under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Plan. - CNA/de

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