Singapore (AP) — Southeast Asian nations are expected to welcome an initial negotiating draft of a nonaggression pact with China on the South China Sea, but critics warn that the protracted talks provide a diplomatic cover for Beijing’s tenacious aggression in the disputed waters.
Top diplomats of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will also praise the rapprochement between the Koreas, along with that of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, when they gather for four days of annual summitry in Singapore starting Wednesday.
Currently led by Singapore, the 10-nation bloc will host on Saturday Asia’s largest security forum, including the key players involved in the Korean Peninsula’s disarmament efforts, which will provide a chance for them to talk on the summit’s sidelines.
Concern over rising extremism in the region and the plight of minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state will also be under the spotlight. Myanmar is to brief the ASEAN foreign ministers on the situation in Rakhine during a lunch “retreat,” an informal gathering where ministers raise contentious issues that normally are a taboo in their staid plenary meetings.
Founded in 1967 in the Cold War era as a bulwark against communism, ASEAN has a bedrock principle of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and decides by consensus, meaning even one member state can doom any proposal it deems offensive.
Those cardinal principles have drastically slowed decision-making and have been used by authoritarian leaders to dodge outside criticism, causing the diplomatic collective to be labeled by skeptics as a “club of dictators” and human rights violators. But its principles have allowed ASEAN to maintain diverse national identities, from rambunctious democracies to martial law regimes, for half a century.
The bloc has also been an acceptable broker for talks for all sorts of conflicts.