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Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) congregated on 18-22 November, to discuss regional issues for the 27th ASEAN Summit, in Kuala Lumpur.
ASEAN was formed in 1967 in a bid to accelerate the political and economic growth of the region. Renowned for the ‘ASEAN way’, the organisation distinctively aims to consult and reach consensus in a very relaxed and consultative manner. It has now developed to become a group of 10 nations located in South East Asia; providing member states with a forum to informally discuss, and negotiate regional stability. The members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. However, meetings have been known to include dialogue between the ASEAN members, and other important players in the region, including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The meetings scheduled for the week included the 27th ASEAN Summit Plenary, the 18th ASEAN-China Summit, the 13th ASEAN-India Summit, the 3rd ASEAN-US Summit and the 18th ASEAN + 3 Summit (which included China, South Korea and Japan). Preceding the week was the APEC Summit and following the ASEAN meetings, the East Asia Summit (EAS) will also meet, marking 10 years since its establishment.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confronted the topical issue of Islamic extremism as he opened the Summit. He referred to the series of recent attacks in Beirut, Paris and Mali, and reaffirmed the denunciation of such acts: ‘The perpetrators of these cowardly acts do not represent any race, religion or creed, nor should we allow them to claim to do so. They are terrorists and should be confronted as such, with the full force of the law.’
He also stressed the importance of resolving disputes between the member states peacefully and diplomatically, referring to the recent outbreak of tension in the South China Sea. ‘We call on all parties to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that would complicate or escalate tension,’ he said. Out of the 10 ASEAN member states, 7 have been involved in or are currently involved in that dispute.
President Obama also condemned the escalation of tensions in the South China Sea dispute and specifically denounced China’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands: ‘For the sake of regional stability, the claimants should halt reclamation, construction and militarisation of disputed areas.’ Earlier in November, US B-52 bombers were sighted flying near China’s artificial islands, signalling US presence in the dispute and willingness to intervene in the area.
The Summit culminated with the production of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community, both documents which seek to bind the 10-bloc nations closer together and outlines future goals for the partners to pursue.