(HN, March 31, 2012) - Thailand will raise haze that blanketed its northern region and its neighboring countries as an agenda concern for leaders to deal with at the 20th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next week, April 3-4, according to Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Cambodia, whose chairmanship was handed over from Indonesia last year, is for the first time hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings from today through Wednesday (March 30-April 4). The summit marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the regional bloc.
Some countries, including the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Indonesia, support Thailand's initiative and the ASEAN leaders may issue a joint statement for cooperation to solve the haze problem, an annual occurrence.
In preparation for the high level leaders meeting, finance ministers from ASEAN nations wrapped up their 16th gathering with an agreement to intensify economic and financial cooperation for realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, said a joint statement released after the gathering.
"The ASEAN finance ministers together with the troika of ASEAN central bank governors of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei reaffirmed our commitment to maintain growth and development momentum and financial stability of the region in the face of difficult global challenges," said the statement.
It added the ministers exchanged views with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund on policies to maintain stability in the current environment and called on them to continue to pursue innovative projects and assistance to better serve the needs of the ASEAN economies.
"We agreed to take all necessary actions to sustain growth and preserve the stability of financial markets," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said in a press briefing after the meeting.
(Video: Cambodia getting ready for ASEAN 2012/TeukTnotChou)
He said the ministers were also pleased that the ASEAN economies grew by 4.5 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy. The ministers also agreed to continue intensifying efforts to build stronger integrated financial markets to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community.
Addressing the ASEAN economic situation at a meeting on Friday, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said within ASEAN, Indonesia should continue robust growth on strong domestic demand, while Brunei will return to its trend growth thanks to high petroleum prices. Thailand and the Philippines, both of which suffered a severe drop in exports toward the end of last year due to supply chain disruptions, are expected to show vibrant growth.
Vietnam continues to battle inflation, whilst Myanmar is expected to accelerate reforms, and Singapore, and to some extent Malaysia, will experience some slowdown, as they will be affected more by external conditions.
"But, importantly, we expect growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--the so-called CLMV countries--to continue to outpace growth in middle-income ASEAN," he said. "All in all, despite a difficult external environment, we still expect ASEAN growth this year to remain robust at 5.2 percent."
ASIA DRUG FREE ZONE
Also on the Asian leaders agenda will be a declaration creating a drug-free zone among members in the next three years. The 10 ASEAN leaders expect to endorse the declaration at their summit meeting next week.
Arthayudh Srisamoot, director-general of Thailand's Foreign Ministry's ASEAN Affairs Department, said the government has pushed for the drug-free zone with member nations for some time, and was pleased to see the declaration finally come into being. The government regarded the zone as an important part of its campaign against drugs.
"ASEAN will try to give more cooperation and more coordination on drug policy as well as exchanging experiences among members," he said.
Cambodia will host the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting tomorrow and Saturday, a Foreign Ministerial Meeting on Sunday and Monday; the leaders' group meets Tuesday and Wednesday. In June, Thailand will host a seminar on cross border management between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China (non ASEAN nations) to discuss rules and regulations for free flows of trade in the region.
The leaders are to praise Myanmar for making progress with political development after it invited ASEAN members and the media to observe its by-elections this weekend; hoping that open elections are the first step to more regional cooperation with this just emerging nation - including becoming a visa-free country for ASEAN citizens by 2015.
Although not an ASEAN nation, China's presence is being heavily felt in Cambodia as President Hu Jintao arrived in the Phnom Penh capital Friday on a state visit to bolster ties between the already close nations, just days before the ASEAN meeting begins; and, having just left the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in New Delhi where leaders there called for the creation of a new global development bank and where the attitude was described as `non-West, not anti-West'.
Hu’s four-day trip is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current ASEAN chair, observers say. It is likely that the thorny issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to resurface among South East Asia leaders as well, without China being represented at the summit.
-- HUMNEWS (c)
Related: Will ASEAN Tackle South China Sea?