THE 26th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Malaysia concluded on Monday, April 27 with the adaption of three new declarations. Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak led his counterparts in the two-day meeting.
This year, leaders from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam vowed to fulfill the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People-Oriented, People-Centred ASEAN; Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates; and the Declaration on Institutionalising the Resilience of ASEAN and its Communities and People to Disasters and Climate Change.
“I believe we have had some very useful and positive discussion and have made good headway in working together to make a People-Centred ASEAN a reality,” Najib said during his speech in the closing ceremony.
The Malaysian Prime Minister insisted that through the extensive discussions in the conference of Southeast Asian leaders, progress towards a greater ASEAN community would be felt in the coming months and years.
He reminded leaders to maximize the essence of their talks.
“The rewards for all our people are too great for us not to seize this opportunity wholeheartedly,” Najib said.
“After hearing all that you have had to say, I feel certain that you can share my conviction that this is ASEAN’s time, and that we will act to make the most of our region’s tremendous potential,” he added.
With 600 million people living in Southeast Asia, one of the key points of the summit was how to make ASEAN more people-oriented and people-centred. Leaders tackled poverty and ways to narrow the development gap between and within ASEAN countries. They also vowed to augment the exchanges between youth, civil society groups and businesses across the region.
Responding to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has been slowly spreading towards the region, the leaders of the 10-member association signed the declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates.
“We recognize that moderation is a core value in he pursuit of long-lasting peace and a tool to diffuse tensions, negate radicalism and counter extremism in all its forms and manifestations,” the Declaration stated.
Part of the signed document urged the countries to step up cooperation in promoting efforts to drown out extremist voices and to conduct a range of activities including interfaith dialogues and exchange of experiences on countering radicalization and tackling the roots of extremism.
Neighboring Nepal’s 7.8 magnitude quake tragedy compelled ASEAN leaders to press on the importance of preparing for disasters. It was also noted that the location of the region makes the countries prone to natural disasters.
The 10 countries now plan on increasing investment in disaster risk reduction efforts and amplifying coordination with the public and private sectors as well as civil society groups to address issues such as the degradation o ecosystems, improving local governance, and preparedness for the next major earthquake, tsunami or typhoon.
Also, one of the recurring topics in the summit, having a common time zone was discussed but was not agreed by everyone just yet.
Najib said if this would be approved, it would be “yet another historic milestone in ASEAN regional cooperation and community-building.”
Through Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s insistence, leaders discussed China’s reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands that has been gradually destroying hundreds of acres of coral reefs, at the cost of at least US$100 million per year.
Four members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – are contesting claims on parts of the South China Sea, prompting the ASEAN to react.
“Respect for international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, must be the basis of the rules of engagement and activities in the South China Sea,” Najib said.
The ASEAN called diplomatic solution to help mediate the conflict.
“While we continue our engagement and cooperative relationships with countries outside ASEAN, we need to peacefully manage differences closer to home, including overlapping maritime claims, without increasing tensions,” he added.
The Malaysian leader emphasized on addressing the developments “in a proactive, but also in a positive and constructive way.”
Najib believes that a Code of Conduct is needed to at least tame the brewing tension among the countries laying their claims to parts of the sea.
On the other hand, China said it was “extremely concerned” after the statement of ASEAN leaders that the reclamation activities “eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”
“On this issue China has exercised extreme restraint,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, adding that it should only be the countries directly involved in the dispute who should be expressing concern in the problem.
“China resolutely opposes individual countries making insinuations about China for their own selfish interests and taking hostage the China-ASEAN relationship,” he added.
(With reports from Reuters, The Malay Mail, Straits Times, and Philstar.com)
(LA Midweek April 29 – May 1, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)