Myanmar gets the distinct honour this week of hosting several Asean meetings. The most important of all, on the weekend, is the Asean Regional Forum, popularly known as ARF. The forum brings all 10 Asean countries together with the foreign ministers of other regional and world powers. There are plenty of topics on this week's agenda but two are seriously threatening East Asian relations: North Korea and territorial disputes centering on the South China Sea.
Pyongyang's foreign minister is likely to attend the 21st ARF session. North Korea is a full partner in ARF, but its attendance is as sporadic and unpredictable as all of its policies. As of now, Asean is considering a resolution with praise for Pyongyang's family reunions with South Korea and dialogue with Japan — and criticism for missile tests and the fierce propaganda over military exercises in South Korea. Asean and partners also want to see the resumption of Six-Party Talks between North Korea and its "partners" including South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.
But the chronic and dangerous confrontation between China and several Asean members over the South China Sea will once again tax ARF ministers' diplomatic abilities. And so far, those abilities have been wanting. The claims now are well known. Beijing claims virtually all the sea, sea bed, islands and shoals. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia dispute those claims.
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