Nov 17, 2012

Cambodia - ASEAN leaders ready to begin year end Summit

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PHNOM PENH: The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) begin their year-end Summit in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh from November 18.

Two important milestones are expected from the three-day meeting.

The first is the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

And second, the launch of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was first endorsed by ASEAN's leaders in November 2011.

It is understood that through the human rights declaration, ASEAN leaders would commit to promote and protect human rights, along with "democracy, rule of law and good governance."

But provisions in the declaration's draft say rights could be limited for reasons of security, public order and morality, issues which have been criticised by civil society and human rights groups.

The objective of the RCEP is to aim for a comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that involves deeper engagement than the existing ASEAN Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

Working groups involving ASEAN member states and FTA partners on trade in goods, trade in services, and investment have already been established.

RCEP is also based on open accession, which would enable any of the ASEAN FTA partners, namely China, South Korea, Japan, India and Australia-New Zealand to participate, either from the outset or when they are ready to join at a later date.

The arrangement is also open to any other external economic partners.

The ASEAN secretariat adds that with the objective of ASEAN Community by 2015 less than three years away, the economy will feature high on the agenda--particularly, narrowing the development gap between Member States and economic integration.

The ASEAN leaders will also discuss global economy, trade exchange, security matters, human rights, environment and climate change.

ASEAN's leaders will also hold their dialogues with several of their partners in the East Asia Summit grouping- among them China, Japan and South Korea- dubbed the Plus Three partners.

For Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the Cambodia summit will be his last as the leader of the Chinese delegation, with the new team of Chinese leaders announced on Thursday during the Chinese Communist Party Congress.

While for US President Barack Obama, his visit to the Asian region will be his first overseas trip after being re-elected for another four year term as the American President.

ASEAN-US ties will also be celebrating 35 years of achievements while ASEAN's ties with India will see a commemorative summit in New Delhi to celebrate 20 years of ties, at the end of next month in New Delhi.

ASEAN's Economic and Foreign Affairs ministers will be meeting ahead of their leaders on Saturday to finalise the documents and issues to present to their leaders for their summit meeting.

And among the issues expected to be tabled, a report on the progress made so far on the South China Sea disputes issue, a subject which led to ASEAN's foreign ministers failing to issue their joint communique in July this year due to disagreements on the matter.

Brunei will be next Chair of ASEAN in 2013.

- CNA/fa

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