This Weekend’s News: Eye on ASEAN

Southeast Asian leaders concluded the 18th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this weekend. Coverage of the summit seemed to focus mostly on the protracted border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand that overshadowed a large portion of the meeting. The dispute – largely over Hindu temples that sit on overlapping territorial claims – could undermine regional stability and plans for an economic community by 2015, according to reports. Perhaps just as important, the lack of resolution could signal, according to Reuters, “the apparent inability of the bloc to deal with disagreements” at a time when Southeast Asian nations are attempting to make progress on a range of complex security challenges, including food and energy security, climate change and contested claims in the South China Sea.

Indonesia, hosting this year’s summit, has been seeking a larger role in ASEAN with the aim of bolstering the group’s strength and credibility. According to The Wall Street Journal, ASEAN “has long been criticized by academics and economists for being something of a talk shop, without the political will to take serious steps to more closely integrate its economies,” or deal with other looming challenges. But despite the stalled negotiations over the weekend, Indonesia still hopes to seek a larger role in ASEAN, and for the group to become one “that takes actions and doesn't just make joint declarations.”

Besides the Thai-Cambodia border dispute, the summit included discussions on a range of security issues that plague the region. According to CBS News, the summit focused on “concerns about food shortages, spiraling energy prices, human trafficking and maritime security.”

Indeed, territorial disputes in the South China Sea were a central focus for the group just weeks after China announced that it would add ships and personnel to strengthen its enforcement over maritime claims throughout the region. “‘We deemed the South China Sea issue, in all its various dimensions, as having the potential to undermine the stability of our region,’ according to the final communique released after the meeting,” CBS News reported. “The smaller nations, together with the U.S., worry that China may use its military might to seize the area outright or assume de facto control with naval patrols. That could threaten one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.” According to The Bangkok Post, ASEAN leaders "emphasised the 'need for a breakthrough' in talks with Beijing about a code of conduct in the South China Sea." (CNAS is currently conducting a study on the South China Sea that you can read more about here.)

Many of the challenges discussed at the ASEAN summit this weekend are likely to be raised in other fora, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the principal venue for security dialogue in the region. According to Voice of Vietnam, Southeast Asian leaders over the weekend “agreed to promote consultations, take joint actions at multilateral forums and pledged to accelerate regional cooperation in copying (sic) with challenges, especially climate change, natural disaster control, food and energy security.” We will continue to follow these discussions and report back.

This Week’s Events

Today at 4:30 p.m., CSIS will host a discussion with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Admiral Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, on “The Road to Nuuk: U.S. Policy Interests in the Arctic.”

On Tuesday at noon, the Society for International Development is hosting a “Food Security and Agricultural Workshop.” Then, at 12:45 p.m., SAIS will be hosting Guenter Liebel, deputy minister for Environment at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, to discuss“Energy and Climate Policy in Austria.” At 3:00 p.m. the Wilson Center is holding a panel discussion on the “Connections Between Climate and Stability: Lessons from Asia and Africa.” Then, at 4:00 p.m., the Wilson Center will also hold an event on “India’s Quest for a Lower Carbon Footprint.”

On Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., go to the Atlantic Council to hear John Briscoe, Director of Harvard University’s Water Security Initiative speak on “Transboundary Waters in South Asia: Conflict or Cooperation?”  Then at 2:00 p.m. the Heritage Foundation will hold a panel discussion on “Should the U.S. Provide Food Aid to North Korea,” featuring CNAS’ own Patrick Cronin.

On Friday at 10:00 a.m., the Organization of American States is hosting Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for a discussion on “Climate Change: What Americans Can and Must Do.”