Obama heads to ASEAN meet with high expectations

Saturday, 17 November 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • First overseas tour since re-election expected to increase US presence in region

Uditha Jayasinghe reporting from Phnom Penh

Key world leaders including re-elected US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao are arriving for the 21st ASEAN summit with the expectation of strengthening ties, officials said here.

The 21st Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related Summits will be held from 18-20 November at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

The events will bring together all ASEAN leaders and ASEAN’s dialogue country leaders including US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.   Russian President Vladimir Putin will be a notable absentee from the conference. Obama arrives in Cambodia on Monday as part of his first overseas tour since re-election and will hold discussions with ASEAN leaders that same afternoon.

However, his much-anticipated arrival has been shadowed by security concerns that led to the arrest of eight locals who protested eviction from their homes on Thursday.

The local Phnom Penh Post reported that as many as 160 families living in shelters near the airport would be removed as part of the security arrangements for Obama.

The host of world leaders is expected to discuss economic and political issues during the two days.

Regional disputes such as the South China Sea issue and Japan’s current standoff with their powerful neighbour is also likely to be discussed even though they are not on the official agenda, analysts opined ahead of bilateral meetings  and the ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, and South Korea) Summit that will be attended by the leaders of the respective countries.      

There will also be several agreements signed between the hosts and China during Prime Minister Wen’s visit, Cambodian government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told media.

One of the main highlights of the meeting will undoubtedly be the adoption of a human rights declaration aimed at fighting torture and illegal arrests in a region notorious for violations, despite criticism that the pact falls short of international standards.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are scheduled to formally adopt the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on Sunday, according to Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.

“This is the first time ASEAN has had this declaration and I think it is a good move,” he told media here adding, “in the future in case it is necessary, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights can hold more meetings with civil society to improve the current declaration.”

Signing the ASEAN Agreement on Movement of Natural Persons and the launch of negotiating for a comprehensive regional economic partnership will also take place.

The launching of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation together with ASEAN Regional Demining Centre will address common concerns among the members.

Global financial issues and pushing the agenda on ASEAN’s connectivity goal to be a European Union-like bloc by 2015 will also top the agenda.