PHNOM PENH: Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan yesterday called for greater unity among Southeast Asian countries to prepare for rising competition among the US and China.
Mr Surin admitted that some Asean members were reluctant to render the grouping full support on solving regional problems, fearing that a stronger Asean could impose itself on their domestic problems.
Mr Surin dismissed these concerns and said future problems will go beyond the region and Asean needed to have the expertise coping with them in order to keep the grouping in the driver's seat.
Asean's weaknesses were evident in July when its foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique on the South China Sea because of conflicts among some members.
Mr Surin admitted the failure had a psychological impact on Asean.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei lay claim to islands and maritime territory in the South China Sea, which is also claimed by China.
China's role in the region is increasing and the United States is reviving its interests in the area.
Mr Surin said now is the first phase of competition between the world's two most powerful countries, adding that Asean must find a way to benefit from their presence and at the same time keep its central role intact. Asean has a role to play in legitimising the competition and it will be a challenge for the group in the years to come, he said.
Mr Surin is in Phnom Penh attending the Asean summit, which will be followed by the East Asia Summit from tomorrow until Tuesday.
Southeast Asian leaders are expected to endorse the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) at the Asean meeting.
Mr Surin said the declaration was not perfect or up to international standards but said it was progress.
''I have no idea whether the leaders will adopt it now or wait. But so far, the AHRD is a document that members are comfortable with,'' he said.
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- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat