The major achievements of the 23rd ASEAN Summit held this week in Brunei can be linked to what did and did not happen.
First, ASEAN chair Brunei again delivered a no-drama summit meeting, much appreciated after Cambodia’s 2012 tenure as ASEAN chair with its repeated attempts to intervene on the South China Sea issue. Notably, this year Cambodia has not been active on the South China Sea issue, reflecting perhaps Hun Sen’s focus on his domestic politics and Cambodia’s having satisfied whatever obligation it owed to China last year. Myanmar now takes over as ASEAN chair, which was once a development to be dreaded and now is viewed as having encouraged the reform efforts in that country. Myanmar’s term will probably be focused on showing the world that its reform efforts are genuine, meaning that it will follow ASEAN consensus on political-security issues and the ASEAN Secretariat’s guidance on economic issues while showcasing the country.
Second, the ASEAN leaders agreed to establish a “High-Level Task Force on Strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing the ASEAN Organs.” This is a much-needed review of the functioning of the ASEAN institutions and hopefully will result in augmenting both the authority of the ASEAN institutions and their effectiveness, a constant theme of this blog.
Third, President Obama was not in Brunei. My previous link suggests what the US can do to repair the diplomatic damage.
Fourth, the ASEAN leaders approved various ASEAN Economic Community-related decisions, which are described in my earlier post here.
Fifth, a joint haze-monitoring system was approved. The system will involve the sharing of digitized land-use maps and concession maps of fire-prone areas that cause haze, with the data will be shared among the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand. This represents an ASEAN-consistent approach to the haze situation, rather than the bilateral approach that had been circulating earlier, and is a positive immediate step, given that Indonesia is not likely to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution so soon, given its upcoming elections.
Finally, the US (represented by Secretary of State John Kerry) said that it supported a code of conduct for the South China Sea. This was interpreted by some media outlets as support for a legal-oriented solution the disputes and hence support for the Philippines’ UNCLOS arbitration case (I think this might be stretching the analysis too far). India announced that it would station a resident ambassador to ASEAN, joining ASEAN’s other major trading partners. Singapore said that it would help lead the joint ASEAN bid to host the football World Cup.