JAKARTA, Indonesia — Minimizing the impact of internal conflicts in some oil-producing countries will be one of the main items in the agenda of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Jakarta next week, ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said Friday night.However, there is no assurance the recent border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia – both ASEAN members – will be discussed.
In a chance interview, Mr. Pitsuwan said among the topics ASEAN leaders will tackle are the plans for economic integration, growth of the region, and the impact of the recent global uncertainties, and even the deadly quake and tsunami that hit Japan early in March.
“Global uncertainties in North Africa, in the Middle East and what happened in Japan certainly will have impact on ASEAN so we will have to make some adjustments," he told reporters after attending the “Best of ASEAN Performing Arts" featuring Cambodia.
He added “[ASEAN] leaders will be very interested in listening to reports and each others’ ideas about how to make sure the impact of recent global developments will be minimized."
The growing unrest in Libya, the third largest oil producer in Africa and eight in the world, the social turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the past months caused prices of fuel to soar due to fear of supply interruption.
Many ASEAN member-countries get their oil supply from North Africa and the Middle East.
The Philippines, for instance, sourced 81 percent of its crude supply from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, last year. It also imported 12 percent from Asia and 7 percent from Russia.
For refined petroleum products, the Philippines bought mainly from Singapore. It imported liquefied petroleum gas mainly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Japan, one of the partners of ASEAN, was recently hit with earthquake that triggered a tsunami and is under the threat of radiation after the Fukushima nuclear plant was severely damaged.
When asked if the Thailand-Cambodia border dispute be tackled, Mr. Pitsuwan said it is up to the leaders if they will discuss it.
“It’s really up to the leaders. I don’t know. The leaders will be very open about each other so there might be some issues that they want to raise," he said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier said he plans to raise the issue during the Summit.
At least eight people have been killed in the recent clashes between Cambodia and Thailand over decades-long border issue.
The two countries have been in a deadlock since July 2008, when Preah Vihear was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand opposed on the grounds that the land around the temple had never been demarcated.
An international court awarded the temple to Cambodia 49 years ago, but both countries lay claim to a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) patch of land around it.
The ASEAN had asked the two countries to settle their differences peacefully.
The ASEAN has a policy of non-intervention regarding affairs of its member countries.
Founded in 1946, the ASEAN believes in respecting the sovereignty of each country.
Its Charter says that the purpose of the association is “to maintain and enhance peace, security and stability".
"ASEAN and its Member States shall … respect the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all ASEAN member states [and] have shared commitment and collective responsibility in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity," Article 2 of the Charter states.
It also states that ASEAN member states shall strengthen peace-oriented values in the region.
Aside from Cambodia and Thailand, the other member states of the ASEAN are Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei and Myanmar.
Threat to credibility
Meanwhile, an expert believes that the border issue is a threat to the credibility and reputation of ASEAN that claims to be a peaceful region.
Rizal Sukma, executive director of Indonesia’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, is worried that if ASEAN will not be able to convince Thailand and Cambodia to settle the row peacefully, “the United Nations Security Council will be obliged to pick up the issue and treat it as a threat to the international security."
“The ASEAN face this problem of credibility especially that since 2003 we keep invoking the notion that ASEAN will become a community where the use of force is not only impossible but unimaginable," he said at a forum.
“As long as this particular problem will continue to occur we can just throw this idea of community into the thrash bin," he added.
Sukma, however, believed that it is better to wait until the election in Thailand in June is over.
“The possibility would be greater because it’s hard to talk about this sensitive issue within very important domestic and political event such as elections," he said.
Mr. Pitsuwan, on the other hand, said the ASEAN leaders will also be discussing the issue of connectivity and the proposed railroad system.
"Connectivity is important for ASEAN. Ten countries are not physically connected," he said.
He acknowledged there are a lot of work to do on air, maritime, telecommunications and infrastructure linkages as these in general, "will be very, very important for ASEAN to be able to grow further."
“So far we have been really a part of the central growth, East Asia has been the center of growth and we are part of that and we are able to play a very important pioneering, spearheading central role in integration here in East Asia, we will have to maintain that," he said.
Moreover, Mr. Pitsuwan said the leaders will exchange views on how to welcome a lot of interest and goodwill from around the world.
He also said that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “are coming."
“That will certainly change the dynamics of the region because of these two major powers and how are we going to maintain our leadership in the expanded group," he said. — LBG, GMA News