The East Asia Summit: What the Key Issues Are

The Khmer Times,14 November 2017

The 12th East Asia Summit, the leaders-led forum, will take place today in the Philippines, with the participation of 18 heads of state and government from the Asia-Pacific region.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be attending the summit.

The summit will focus on a wide range of international issues, including the Korean Peninsula, maritime security in the South China Sea, terrorism and violent extremism and the forced displacement of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar.

On the North Korea issue, the leaders will reaffirm their commitments to fully implement the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, call for the exercise of self-restraint and the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

President Trump has shown self-restraint and softened his rhetoric, sticking to the scripts, during his state visit to Asia, while exercising a show of force with the participation of three aircraft carriers in routine military exercises in the region.

A dual-track engagement strategy – diplomatic dialogue and economic pressure – are required to ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Asean has shown a strong commitment to putting more pressure on North Korea to peacefully denuclearise.

As for the South China Sea, the US remains committed to taking measures to ensure that freedom of navigation (FON) is respected. China has accused the US of using FON exercises to contain China’s maritime power projection.

After reaching a framework agreement on the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, China and Asean will start negotiations on the elements and substance of the COC next year.

Under the chairmanship of the Philippines, the South China Sea issue has been, arguably, well managed. Mutual trust and cooperation have been gradually fostered.   

Some believes it is a new era of China-Asean cooperation in the disputed waters, particularly with regards to non-traditional security concerns such as piracy, illegal fishing, drug and human trafficking, search and rescue, natural disasters and humanitarian relief and maritime terrorism.

Concerning terrorism and violent extremism, regional countries will express their concerns over the rise of violent radicalism and extremism in the region.

A holistic approach to address both the root causes and symptoms of terrorism needs to be developed, such as intelligence sharing, capacity building, education and inclusive development.

The Rohingya crisis, one of the worst humanitarian issues in the modern history of Southeast Asia, has gained international attention over the past few months.

It is one of the most complex regional issues to be tackled, involving historical, socio-cultural and political dimensions.

Many hope the member countries of the East Asia Summit will develop a short-term and long-term plan to address the Rohingya crisis.

Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed, while domestic socio-political and economic conditions need to be restored to accommodate and reintegrate the returnees.

All these regional security concerns need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. International cooperation and partnerships, based on trust and shared vision, are poised to work best in addressing complex transnational issues.

Collective leadership is required. Major powers, middle powers and small states need to work together to strengthen multilateral cooperation frameworks and mobilise resources to build a more resilient, peaceful, sustainable and inclusive society in Asia.

Asean, a group of middle and small powers, has proven its role in maintaining peace and stability in the region through promoting trust, mutual understanding and international cooperation.

While its unity and centrality are being challenged by the power rivalry between the major powers, Asean has to take bold steps in standing with the principles of international laws.

Advancing a rules-based international system serves the best interests of Asean member countries, while in the meantime collectively hedging against dominant powers or hegemons.

While the US is retreating from multilateralism and globalisation, China is projecting its global role as a defender of globalisation and multilateralism.

China’s political and economic clout in the region is rising, while the US seems to be relatively declining.

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