United States of America under President Barack H. Obama has taken their concern for the influence and control from the perspective of global diplomacy, geo-politics, international trade and military projection of power on the second most important and strategic maritime lane in the world; South China Sea.
The Diplomat story:
US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit: What to Expect
A look at the summit’s objectives, format and potential outcomes.
By Prashanth Parameswaran
February 12, 2016
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From February 15-16, U.S. president Barack Obama will host Southeast Asian leaders as well as the ASEAN Secretary-General for a special summit at the historic Sunnylands Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
As of now, eight Southeast Asian leaders are confirmed to attend – Vietnamese foreign minister Pham Van Binh is reportedly set to attend in place of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, while Myanmar’s vice president Nyan Htun will attend on behalf of Prime Minister Thein Sein following a last minute cancellation.
While the Obama administration has been consistent in its commitment to Southeast Asia and ASEAN throughout its two terms in office, this U.S.-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands is historic as it marks the first time that Washington will host Southeast Asian leaders for a standalone summit in the United States.
In holding the summit, the United States has three objectives in mind. Though I have outlined these in a separate piece on the significance of the summit, it is worth briefly reiterating them here before getting to the format of the deliberations as well as the expected outcomes (See: “Why the US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit Matters”).
First, as is the first time that the United States will host ASEAN leaders for a standalone summit, it is a powerful indicator of the Obama administration’s commitment to the subregion as well as ASEAN as a grouping. That is no surprise to those who have followed the evolution of U.S.-ASEAN relations over the past few years. Arguably the most significant aspect of the administration’s so-called rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has been the greater share of attention devoted to Southeast Asia as well as ASEAN as a whole within U.S. Asia policy. Over the past few years, the United States has ratified the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, become the first non-ASEAN country to appoint a resident ambassador to ASEAN, and institutionalized annual U.S.-ASEAN summits.
Second, the summit provides an opportunity for the United States and ASEAN to deepen and broaden their engagement. As I have written previously, in November the two sides had elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership. At the Sunnylands summit, both sides can build on this momentum and begin to make headway on a plan of action they laid out to implement the strategic partnership out to 2020.
Third and lastly, with Obama now in his last year in office and the U.S. presidential race heating up, the Sunnylands Summit is an ideal time for his administration to signal the importance of ASEAN to its successor.
Before delving into the summit itself, it is important to stress that the official interactions at the leader level will not be the only key engagements to watch. Other U.S. officials like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will also be at Sunnylands. There is also a senior officials meeting ahead of the summit.
In terms of the format of the summit iself, U.S. officials say the summit will comprise three main elements: a retreat session on economic issues, an informal working dinner, and a retreat session on political and security issues.
At the retreat session on economic issues, both sides will discuss ways for the United States and ASEAN to further boost trade and investment. The focus will be around innovation and entrepreneurship, with Obama and Southeast Asian leaders exchanging ideas on policy reforms needed to promote further growth and integration following the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community on January 1st this year.
Officials say there will also be conversations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with four ASEAN members already part of the pact (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam), three more looking to join it (Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand), and three others as of now unable to join as they are not part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum (Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia).
The working dinner is designed to be more informal to share views on broader strategic developments. U.S. officials say they expect Obama to stress America’s commitment to the region as well as highlight the importance of good governance, accountable institutions and the rule of law.
The retreat session on political and security issues will address how the United States and ASEAN can address the key strategic and transnational challenges confronting the region, including maritime disputes, terrorism, trafficking in persons, climate change, and pandemic disease. The South China Sea will be a topic of conversation, with leaders discussing both general principles that should govern the management of lingering disputes there as well as recent events that have taken place like Chinese test flights at the newly constructed runway at Fiery Cross Reef. The Islamic State will be another key agenda item, especially given the recent attacks in Jakarta last month. They will also discuss ways to promote people-to-people ties, including through the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), the Obama administration’s signature professional development exchange program.
Ahead of the summit, there have been calls for the Obama administration to ensure that democracy and human rights are addressed as well given the poor record of some of the Southeast Asian nations that will be present. U.S. officials say the president will convey his concerns to Southeast Asian leaders both at the dinner as well as in any side bilateral conversations he has during Sunnylands. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has also met with civil society leaders before the summit. Nonetheless, hundreds of protesters are expected at Sunnylands, with some of them demonstrating against rights abuses in individual ASEAN states.
U.S. officials stress that this summit will be less formal relative to traditional U.S.-ASEAN meetings with strict agendas and tightly negotiated communiques, outcomes and deliverables. That said, an outcome document is expected that will highlight a set of agreed principles between the United States and ASEAN.
There will also be other separate engagements occurring both on the sidelines of the summit as well as following it that could produce outcomes of their own. For instance, the economic component of U.S.-ASEAN relations will be given further treatment at several other events, including an economic roadshow on February 17 involving U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and senior trade officials as well as a separate U.S.-ASEAN Business Council conference to be held in San Francisco after the Sunnylands Summit. That conference will feature, among other things, a keynote address by Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Individual ASEAN leaders will also have their own engagements as well during their visits to the United States apart from the Sunnylands summit. For instance, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who has already arrived in California, is scheduled to meet with Malaysian diaspora and students in Los Angeles as well as hold a roundtable meeting with companies and businessmen. He will also address the opening ceremony of the summit as Malaysia is the country coordinator for U.S.-ASEAN relations from 2015 up to 2018.
This is the East Asian Forum story:
United States goes a’courting ASEAN
15 February 2016
Author: Editors, East Asia Forum
President Barack Obama is hosting leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries in Sunnylands in California this week in a bold move to deepen and broaden US engagement with ASEAN. This is a positive development but it also imposes risks that, in the end, will be up to ASEAN to manage.
Other Asia Pacific countries have regular meetings with ASEAN leaders. The United States has come late in acknowledging the geo-strategic significance of the organisation. Southeast Asian leaders have already had 18 summits with China and 17 with Japan.
The Sunnylands Summit is a continuation of the US rebalance to Asia which started in 2009. US–ASEAN summits have been held on the sidelines of East Asia Summit meetings since 2013 after the United States ratified the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and appointed an ambassador to ASEAN — the first non-ASEAN country to do so.
The ASEAN group is the fourth largest trading partner of the United States and American companies are the largest single source of foreign direct investment in the region. In fact, US companies have invested more in Southeast Asia than they have in Japan, China and India combined. The US–ASEAN relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015 and a Plan of Action is being worked out for engagement over the next five years.
The agenda for Sunnylands is to strengthen economic, political, security and people-to-people ties. But the meeting comes at a time when ASEAN is at sixes and sevens and has the potential to undermine regional coherence unless the ASEAN group is clear about what it wants from its relationship with the United States. This raises some big questions.
ASEAN is a central anchor in Asia’s geo-strategic order. Against how some realists called the odds, ASEAN has not only survived but has also been a useful fulcrum in managing relations among the major regional powers. Driven to unity and cooperation in its relations with large neighbouring countries, ASEAN has been larger than the sum of its parts. ASEAN’s approach to international diplomacy carries weight despite the contradictions in coordination and coherence across a vastly diverse group of nations.
ASEAN, in the face of China’s rise and its competitive rivalry with the United States, now seems more important than ever.
Maintaining ASEAN centrality will depend on progress with its own economic integration. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) came into force at the beginning of this year. It is an ambitious project to move ASEAN towards a single market and production base. The United States, China, Japan, Australia and others in the region have a deep intersection of interests in a strong ASEAN. Making the AEC work is now essential to that.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is being negotiated between ASEAN and its six East Asian free trade agreement partners China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. RCEP is an ASEAN-led agreement that, if successfully negotiated, will entrench ASEAN centrality. At best it can reinforce and extend the AEC so it is of vital importance to conclude an ambitious agreement that ultimately matches or betters the ambition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
High on the US agenda in Sunnylands will be a strategy for dealing with the maritime territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and getting more countries lined up to sign on to the recently concluded TPP.
ASEAN cannot approach the TPP with a common position any time soon. Four ASEAN members — Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam — are members of the TPP and Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have expressed interest in joining. It is unrealistic to expect that there can be movement towards their membership for half a decade or more. That leaves the three least developed countries, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, still at the starting blocks given the high hurdles to entry and also because they are not members of APEC — a requirement under the current TPP arrangement. Meanwhile ASEAN’s engagement in the East Asian economy is the main game.
The TPP is yet to be ratified by its 12 members — which include Japan, Australia and the United States, but not China or India — and will not come into force until at least the beginning of 2018. It is very unclear how much longer after that new members will have to wait before they can expect to join. And even when they are eligible, they will have to negotiate entry separately through US Congress. This could be a very divisive process for the ASEAN group.
Former Indonesian trade minister, Mari Pangestu argues in this week’s lead that the discussion around the TPP this week should not be about urging ASEAN members to join the TPP. Instead, ASEAN should ‘address the potential diversion of trade and investment away from those ASEAN members not in the TPP. This is especially important for the least developed ASEAN countries, such as Cambodia, which are set to lose the most.’
‘The Summit should consider other initiatives that will help to secure ASEAN centrality and provide some transition flexibilities for countries choosing to join the TPP’, she says.
If individual countries chase entry to the TPP there is a risk that the focus in ASEAN will shift away from the AEC and ASEAN’s core agenda in East Asia through RCEP. Dealing with ASEAN countries bilaterally in this manner is precisely what the United States opposes China doing on territorial issues in the South China Sea. And yet, ironically, the conduct of its economic relations with the ASEAN economies embeds this strategic error.
In the economic and security spheres, ASEAN needs a common position that embodies the interests of all ASEAN members. The Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Peaceful resolution of these disputes and counterbalancing China’s assertiveness will be the other major agenda item in Sunnylands. The United States and ASEAN have similar positions on these issues but, as Pangestu suggests, it would be unwise of the United States to wrong-foot ASEAN efforts to secure agreement on its code of conduct in the South China Sea.
‘Leadership and neutrality from the largest ASEAN country, Indonesia — which is not a claimant — can help achieve’ a code of conduct that is being negotiated in an ASEAN-led regional forum, says Pangestu. That would seem to be a more likely way forward towards a peaceful resolution than a US-led response, especially since the United States is not yet signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Of course, ASEAN will need American backing but it is with ASEAN that the diplomatic initiative needs to remain.
ASEAN needs to balance the United States and China. China is ASEAN’s most important economic partner. ‘Asian countries may support America against China to avoid Chinese hegemony’, says Hugh White, ‘but not to preserve US primacy. They are too polite to say that out loud, but if President Obama listens carefully to his guests … that is what he will learn’.
Let’s hope that ASEAN leaders speak up, and also hope that the importance of ASEAN centrality to the region is not accidentally overlooked in the pursuit of other objectives.
The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
It is very interesting how the ASEAN Heads of Government at the moment in Sunnyland, California going to reciprocate Obama’s new policy in South East Asia.
The current policy may be softer than many red neck hardliners would want it to be but in eleven months time, the Americans could vote in a gun-totting President and the Republican approach of ‘Might and Slight’ would automatically precede Obama’s consultative ways.
This is amidst very active China PLA-N manoeuvres all over South China Sea since 2008, in realising the communist republic’s very courageous claim of ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ and now building military installations.
The growing tension by the projection of force by the China PLA-Navy (PLA-N) has been reciprocated by the presence of US Navy manoeuvres of the same intent. It has escalated after the dispute with the Philippines, drew many other external parties.
ASEAN and China signed the Document of Conduct in 2002 to agree that all disputes within the South China Sea, particularly on overlapping multi-claim territories be resolved in accordance with UN Convention Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and multilateral dialogues.
However, PLA-N have been discovered to have build three separate military installations on previously reefs, for the purpose of projection of force.
The involvement of China and being reciprocated by the United States using the projection of force, is a manifestation of control for the access of a very strategic maritime trade passage and a much needed huge deposits of hydrocarbon.
China already benefitted from the ability to invade and take position of the Paracel islands, closer to off-the-coast of Vietnam forty two years ago. Today, China is exploring oil and gas in the area.
PLA-N ships have been mounting military manoeuvres at Beting Patinggi Ali, which is 50 nautical miles off the coast of Miri and is very much in Malaysia’s EEZ area. Two years ago, we talked about the same manoeuvres at Beting Serupai.
This should be a grave concern but the Minister of Defence Dato’ Sri Hishamuddin Hussein is attempting to don’t play the issue, amidst growing concerns by Sarawakians themselves.
Two Chinese ship spotted near Sarawak not on our waters
BY HANI SHAMIRA SHAHRUDIN
– 15 FEBRUARY 2016 @ 3:35 PM KUALA LUMPUR: The two Chinese coast guard ship spotted near Luconia Shoals off Miri, Sarawak were not in Malaysian waters, said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
He said the situation was misreported and that reports published in several online portals were untrue. Asked if the presence of the ship would affect Barisan Nasional’s position in the upcoming Sarawak election, he said it should strengthen the party’s position.
“What happened in the South China Sea is not a simple matter, everyone admitted it is complex and I have said two days ago that I would arrange for the Chinese ambassador to explain to the state leadership on the vessel sightings.
“Secondly, I think the strength of BN’s government to be able to leverage and have diplomatic military relations with the super powers… Not many governments or countries can do that,” he said.
Hishammuddin added that the close relations could be seen at the height of the MH370 tragedy which saw 26 countries coming forward to work with Malaysia.
“We do not have the assets but the countries assisted us with their P-8 Poseidon, P3 Orion and the search planes… We had 26 countries working with us, if that is not the strength of BN’s government then what is,” he said.
This issues brought in many levels of discourse within ASEAN itself and at odds on how the matter to be resolved. China is a very important trade partner for ASEAN.
So far, the approach has been through diplomatic channels though the Philippines already taken China to ICJ, despite little progress have been made.