ASEAN leaders pose for pictures during the opening ceremony of the 24th ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw on Sunday. From left, the leaders are: Philippines President Benigno Aquino, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong. Photo by Soe Zeya Tun, Reuters
MYANMAR -- (UPDATED) President Benigno Aquino III insisted on the rule of law and the involvement of the entire ASEAN in engaging with other countries during the 24th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Myanmar.
The summit is being held after the Philippines filed its arbitration case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea concerning disputes in the South China Sea.
Aquino sought to get the ASEAN more involved in external relations with other countries.
"We call for a review of the current policy of moratorium. We should devise ways and means for ASEAN to expand our development and dialogue cooperation with other interested states, regions, and multilateral organizations that are in a position to contribute to our community-building efforts. It is only natural that ASEAN seeks to engage more of the world in its pursuit of inclusive growth and integration. Perhaps the time has come to study ways on how best to do this efficiently-for instance, in engaging with others as regional blocs, instead of as individual nations," Aquino said.
"We stand firm in our belief -- a belief shared by all -- that the rule of law is key in fostering a climate of stability, one that allows our societies and our peoples to flourish. As such, we look forward to working with our colleagues and partners in this Summit towards enhancing our engagements in promoting the rule of law," he stressed.
The Philippines prefers a multilateral approach to approaching disputes with China over the South China Sea, while China wants a bilateral approach.
Some members of the ASEAN like the Philippines and Vietnam are in conflict with China over ownership of parts of the South China Sea, one of the busiest navigation lanes in the world. But the ASEAN as a group has stayed neutral.
Aside from the rule of law and multilateralism, Aquino also talked about the progress in the implementation of the roadmap for an ASEAN community, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Work Plan II, and the master plan on ASEAN connectivity.
Aquino also discussed the signing of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Philippine proposal for the promotion of gender mainstreaming in peace-building, peace processes, and conflict resolution.
He also called on his fellow leaders to commit to completing an ASEAN instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers in time for integration in 2015, as well as measures to combat human trafficking, the enhancement of micro, small and medium enterprises' participation in ASEAN integration, and the operationalization of ASEAN roll-on/roll-off (RORO) initiative.
Aquino noted that there are continuing efforts to operationalize the routes identified by the JICA-funded feasibility study on ASEAN RORO routes under the master plan on ASEAN connectivity, which includes the Davao/General Santos-Bitung route.
"Such a link will spur trade, SME development, and consequently, community empowerment in southern Philippines and Sulawesi, opening the doors of opportunity for our peoples -- and at the same time, providing a model for future initiatives to emulate and learn from," he said.
The President also expressed support for the full implementation of the ASEAN agreement on disaster management and emergency response (AADMER) and the strengthening of the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance.
"We specifically propose that ASEAN maximize its standby arrangements for joint disaster relief and emergency response operations and protocols among our individual disaster management agencies," Aquino said
"The Philippines' typhoon Haiyan experience highlights the need for even stronger ASEAN institutions and mechanisms-those that can effectively respond to frequent calamities. I urge my Colleagues to support the work of the High Level Task Force and the ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group as they analyze and recommend what must be accomplished or amended by our regional organization, to keep it responsive and attuned to the needs of our peoples," he said.
No direct references to conflict
Leaders of the ASEAN began their 24th summit early Sunday morning, with Myanmar President U Thein Sein welcoming his counterparts to the Myanmar International Convention center for the opening rites.
The summit was held amid tight security in the venue.
In his speech in his mother tongue, Thein Sein said the ASEAN is now at a “critical juncture and we need to make sure that all necessary steps in the community building are taken in a timely manner for the realization of the ASEAN community”
Thein Sein did not make any direct references to the conflicts in the South China Sea. “In regional and global contexts, ASEAN must continue to play a greater role with more proactive engagements with external parties,” he said.
The Myanmar leader also called a “great achievement” the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and said all ASEAN members support efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao.
The agenda of the summit includes the implementation of the remaining tasks in the blue prints for ASEAN community through undertaking initiatives; exerting more effort in promoting the resilience of ASEAN economies; and redoubling efforts at poverty reduction.
Thein Sein also called attention to the issue of climate change, proposing an ASEAN rapid response capacity to be built up from an emergency fund, the establishment of research centers to share knowledge on climate adaptable agricultural products and a systematic rehabilitation of mangrove forests in the ASEAN.
The opening rites concluded with the traditional handshake of the ASEAN leaders and was followed by cultural presentations.
The ASEAN groups 10 countries: The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar , Brunei and Singapore.
Later in the day, Aquino will also participate in the 10th Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit.
This is the first time Myanmar is hosting the ASEAN Summit since it joined the bloc in 1997.