Draft ASEAN chair­man’s state­ment raises ques­tions as bloc’s 31st sum­mit winds down

Business World - - FRONT PAGE - A.L. Bal­in­bin

THE 31st As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) sum­mit — the sec­ond this year while the Philip­pines chairs the bloc — was set to end last night with a draft state­ment show­ing a blank section on the South China Sea and silent on the plight of Ro­hingya Mus­lims flee­ing from Myan­mar’s Rakhine state.

The draft chair­man’s state­ment — a ver­sion dated Nov. 11 and cir­cu­lated among jour­nal­ists — did ex­press ASEAN lead­ers’ “grave con­cern over DPRK’s (Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, or North Korea) on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of weapons of mass de­struc­tion — in­clud­ing nu­clear and chem­i­cal weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile tech­nolo­gies — which are in con­tra­ven­tion of UNSC (United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil) res­o­lu­tions,” adding that they “strongly urged the DPRK to fully and im­me­di­ately com­ply with its obli­ga­tions aris­ing from all the rel­e­vant UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tions.”

The same draft showed a section on the South China Sea mar­itime dis­pute merely bar­ing the in­scrip­tion “Chair to pro­vide,” while a section on mar­itime se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tion said only that ASEAN “un­der­scored the im­por­tance of strength­en­ing link­ages in mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion to fur­ther pro­mote mu­tual trust and con­fi­dence to en­sure se­cu­rity, peace and sta­bil­ity in­clud­ing in en­sur­ing safety and free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight.” It com­pared to the draft of the 30th sum­mit state­ment in April that cited “land recla­ma­tion and mil­i­ta­riza­tion that may fur­ther com­pli­cate the sit­u­a­tion…” in a clear ref­er­ence to China’s build­ing of an ar­ti­fi­cial isle and in­stal­la­tion of weapons sys­tems, as well as run­ways and other fa­cil­i­ties a lit­tle more than 200 kilo­me­ters west of Palawan that could ac­com­mo­date mil­i­tary air­craft. The fi­nal ver­sion then struck out that men­tion but re­tained a ref­er­ence to di­vi­sion among

ASEAN lead­ers on how to deal with Beijing’s as­sertive­ness in that vi­tal sealane. “We took note of con­cerns ex­pressed by some lead­ers over re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the area,” it had read.

Mr. Duterte tried to keep the South China Sea dis­pute off the ta­ble for talks — say­ing in a speech last Sun­day that “the South China Sea is bet­ter left un­touched” — but Pres­i­den­tial Spokesper­son Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a press brief­ing on Mon­day that “at least two to three” ASEAN lead­ers raised the mat­ter.

The Nov. 11 draft state­ment did not even con­tain a section on the plight of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya. Mr. Roque had said, how­ever, that the is­sue was raised “by two mem­ber states” of ASEAN with Myan­mar State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was quoted as merely re­spond­ing that her coun­try would “wel­come hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.”

Over 600,000 Ro­hingya are es­ti­mated to have fled to Bangladesh af­ter Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary launched at­tacks in re­sponse to Ro­hingya mil­i­tants’ raids on se­cu­rity posts in Au­gust. Me­dia on the ground have since re­ported ac­counts of mas­sacres and rapes, lead­ing the United Na­tions to brand the mil­i­tary oper­a­tions as tan­ta­mount to eth­nic cleans­ing.

For po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Richard F. Hey­dar­ian, “what stands out [in the draft chair­man’s state­ment] is what’s not there.”

“As far as I know, I don’t think that the Ro­hingya is­sue has been discussed in a way that it has to be discussed,” Mr. Hey­dar­ian said in an in­ter­view yes­ter­day.

“What’s hap­pen­ing in Myan­mar is a clear sys­tem­atic per­se­cu­tion of a mi­nor­ity — bor­der­ing on geno­cide and al­ready in the ter­ri­tory of eth­nic cleans­ing — but you don’t see any of those international le­gal terms be­ing re­flected in the draft,” he noted.

“I think the draft is ex­tremely soft — if not com­pletely tan­gen­tial — on deal­ing with the is­sue of Ro­hingya. So I am a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed with that.”

Any ref­er­ence to a South China Sea code of con­duct, he added, should be scru­ti­nized for “clear timeta­bles” and whether any­thing will be legally bind­ing on all par­ties. — with

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