Disaster response, water disputes on ASEAN agenda

South China Sea dispute takes center stage again in 48th ASEAN meeting, as well as discussions over coordinated humanitarian assistance plans for member states

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set out to discuss efforts of member countries in disaster management and emergency response when the body’s 48th Ministerial Meeting (AMM) kicked off on Saturday in Malaysia.

The 10 member bloc formed the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre in 2011 and aims to use its resources to help member countries such as the Philippines deal, which has recently repeatedly suffered from natural disasters.

The organisation’s six-day event summit is taking place in the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) in Malaysia’s capital under the country’s chairmanship, and member states are expected to discuss a range of issues, including ASEAN’s future vision for the region and the wider world.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to attend the summit and talk with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak about efforts against people trafficiking.

This year's summit is themed “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision.”  As ASEAN focuses on further integration of regional economies in a highly competitive global economic environment, it also prepares to take on bigger responsibilities such as disaster and emergency relief work.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said that ASEAN has accomplished 90 per cent of its economy, political-security and socio-cultural goals so far and will work together to resolve remaining issues.

He said the Malaysian government will work with other members to establish a "post-2015 vision" for ASEAN, during his speech at the summit’s opening ceremony.

“This would be an important undertaking for ASEAN in charting a bold, inclusive and forward-looking future for this region,” he was quoted by MalayMail Online as saying.

Dispute over South China Sea

An ongoing tension in the South China Sea over Chinese land reclamation will also be on the summit's agenda and analysts believe that a planned "foreign ministers’ hotline" to prevent military escalation in disputed waters will be formally announced in a joint statement in this year's summit.

But they do not expect that China’s and ASEAN’s leaders will reach an agreement for the implementation of the Code of Conduct, signed in 2002, for the South China Sea.

China has long been confronting its neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the waters of the South China Sea.

The parties’ claims to rights to parts of the sea overlap in regards to maritime transportation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, as well as undersea gas and oil reserves.

Malaysia has highlighted eight initiatives as the organisation’s chair country this year with an emphasis on the "ASEAN community" as well as a bigger role for ASEAN in trade, security and peace promotion.

Turkey in ASEAN?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Indonesia on Friday that he wants Turkey to join ASEAN as a member during a joint press conference with Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo.

"The Asia Pacific region is increasingly important in the world economy, and we want to boost cooperation. We also would like to be a member of ASEAN," he said.

ASEAN was established in 1967 in Bangkok by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand with the aim of ensuring political and economic cooperation and peace in the region. Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia later also joined the bloc.

Institutional relations between Turkey and the bloc were formed in 2010 and Turkey's embassy in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta has been accredited with ASEAN.

As the bloc only currently accepts the countries in the "recognized geographical region of Southeast Asia" under its charter, a possible membership of Turkey - which is located 6,000 km from the closest ASEAN member - would require a change in its admission rules.

TRTWorld and agencies