By C. S. Kuppuswamy
The 19th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits were held at Bali from 17-19 November 2011. The world leaders, Barack Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, Wen Jiabao and about 15 Heads of State attended the discussions.
ASEAN, established in 1967, has completed 44 years and seems to have come out of its mid-life crisis, when it was often dubbed as a talking shop. It has been successful in resolving the minor conflicts that have erupted in the region making South East Asia as one of the more stable and peaceful regions in the world.
With the various sub groupings established such as the ASEAN +3, ASEAN+6, APEC and East Asia Summit as well as the one to one summits with its dialogue partners, ASEAN has maintained close relations with all the neighbouring nations and has been able to play a leading rule in the economic well being of its nations and in monitoring the political – security situation in the region.
19th ASEAN Summit
Indonesia is the current chair of ASEAN and the theme earmarked for this year is the “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations” — expected to be achieved by 2022. ASEAN does not want to wait till 2015 (when the ASEAN Community is to be established) to engage the global community as the global situation is changing very fast.
The major decision taken by the ASEAN leaders on 17 November 2011 was to make Myanmar the ASEAN Chair in 2014. Though US President Obama expressed his concerns on this decision by saying it as premature, Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed it.
ASEAN leaders confirmed their commitment to accelerate the implementation ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Member states also expressed the need to expedite the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Community to ensure ASEAN competitiveness and integration in all aspects.
The summit culminated in signing of, the Bali Declaration on the ASEAN Community in the Global Community of Nations, the Agreement on the Establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Human Assistance on disaster management and the Declaration on ASEAN unity in Cultural Diversity.
The Indonesian President then transferred the ASEAN Chair 2012 to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
6th East Asia Summit (EAS)
This year’s EAS was special in the sense that the two major powers US and Russia were formally inducted into this grouping.
Relief measures for floods and other natural disaster was the top agenda item for this year’s EAS. Leaders discussed how to recover their economic growth and prevent future natural disasters for the good of the whole region.
During the summit, it was also discussed as to how the region and its trading partners will cope with the global slowdown in economic growth while Asia continues to show the strongest growth of any region.
Besides the discussions were held on broad and strategic issues of common concern at the regional and international levels, and on ways to enhance and strengthen the cooperation within five priority areas of the EAS, namely finance, energy, education, communicable diseases, and disaster management.
The Summit concluded with the adopting of two key documents – The declaration of the EAS on the principles for Mutually Beneficial Relations and the Declaration of the 6th East Asia Summit on ASEAN Connectivity. The first declaration will serve as a guide line for EAS participating countries (based on UN Charter and Treaty of Amity and Cooperation). The second specifies connectivity as one of the key areas of co-operation of the EAS besides the existing five priorities.
In the ASEAN-China Summit held on 19 November 2011, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned “outside forces” from getting embroiled in the South China Sea dispute. Wen told ASEAN leaders “it ought to be resolved though friendly consultations and discussions by countries directly involved’.
Achievements of ASEAN and Related Summits
Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, President of Indonesia in his final Press Conference gave out the nine main achievements that had been discussed and deliberated during the ASEAN and Related Summits.
- Concrete measures to strengthen the three pillars of ASEAN community
- Strengthening the regional economic growth
- To assume a pivotal role in building a more efficient and effective architecture for regional cooperation
- To maintain South East Asia regional stability and security
- Strengthening the role of ASEAN globally
- Joint efforts to strengthen the economy of East Asia (East region)
- Joint efforts to develop platform and real action to address food, water, and energy security as well as climate change
- Joint efforts to address non-traditional security challenges: natural disasters, terrorism, transnational crimes
- Joint efforts to maintain peace, security and stability and order of East Asian region.
India at the Bali Summit
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Bali from 17-19 November 2011 to attend the 9th India-ASEAN meeting and the Sixth East Asia Summit. He was accompanied by the National Security Advisor, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and Secretary (East) MEA.
At the 9th ASEAN India summit the Prime Minister, while indicating the progress made on various fronts intimated that:
- The India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement for Trade in Goods has come into effect in all ASEAN Member States and India following its ratification by Cambodia on 1st August, 2011.
- India’s trade with ASEAN has increased by 30% in 2010-2011 and has crossed the 50 billion US dollar mark. With such a rate of growth we should be able to achieve our trade target of 70 billion US dollar by 2012.
- The inaugural India-ASEAN Business Fair was held in New Delhi in March 2011 along with meetings of the India-ASEAN Business Summit and Business Council. Investments from both sides are steadily growing.
The Prime Minister also sought the support of ASEAN nations for the early conclusion of a meaningful Services and Investment Agreement which would create a positive atmosphere for implementation of the India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement.
He also extended an invitation to the leaders for the special ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to be hosted by India in December 2012 (on completion of 20 years as a dialogue partner and 10 years as a summit level partner).
At the East Asia Summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India fully subscribes to the view that the EAS process must be centred on ASEAN and ASEAN should be its driving force. While talking about the global economic situation showing several signs of stress he said that India like other Asian countries are growing well and contributing to the recovery of the World Community. He complimented the Comprehensive Asian Development Plan to enhance connectivity in the region, brought out by the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN. He also gave out the progress on the Nalanda University in India (approved in the East Asia Summit in Thailand in 2009).
In a meeting with Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, Manmohan Singh told that “Indian Interests (in the South China Sea) were purely commercial” and “issues of sovereignty should be resolved according to international laws and practice”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also a meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit. Obama said there were “no irritants” in the relationship and that the two countries continued to “strengthen the bonds”. On the nuclear issue Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he told Obama that American Companies would have to operate within the “four corners” of the law of the land and “we are willing to address any specific grievances”. He also offered the setting up of a joint working group to allay American concerns about Nuclear Liability Bill.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and discussed the different aspects of bilateral cooperation.
Indonesia, a founding member of ASEAN, was hosting the ASEAN summits for the third time in 2011 (earlier in 1976 and 2003). Indonesia has played a stellar role in the development of ASEAN.
Jusuf Wanadi writes (Jakarta Post 17 November 2011) that the four initiatives brought in by Indonesia, in the Cambodia-Thailand conflict, in supporting Myanmar for the ASEAN Chair in 2014, in convening the EAS with US and Russia and to keep dialogue and negotiation on the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in South China Sea moving ahead, are major achievements of Indonesia’s leadership during its 2011 ASEAN Chairmanship.
ASEAN is going full steam for establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015 based on the three pillars (political, economic and socio-cultural) and is aiming for the goal of the “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations” to be achieved by 2022.
The current rivalry between US and China has come to the fore in these summits though both sides have justified their postures. Wen Jiabao’s warning was certainly directed towards USA.
With all major powers US, Russia and China attending the summits, ASEAN has become one of the leading regional organisations the world.
India in pursuance of its “Look-East Policy” has taken an active part in these summits and has laid a firm ground work for greater India-ASEAN Cooperation.