For those readers who are unaware, there has been an ASEAN conference for the last two days for the nations of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei) that has discussed a variety of intriguing subjects (especially intriguing to someone who happens to be in the area) . In the interests of making the points as clearly as possible, I will briefly discuss some of the issues in the conference, closing with the biggest current issue and the one of the greatest personal relevance.
Some of the “less contentious” issues discussed at the conference were longstanding border dispute in the South China Sea, presumably over the Spratly Islands off the coast of Borneo and Palawan that are claimed by half a dozen nations for the oil found offshore. The East Timor bid for membership might have been a bit contentious because the conference was in Jakarta and East Timor is a successful breakway state from Indonesia. Food and energy security were also discussed, but probably without a lot of contentions. The continuing problem of human trafficking was discussed, and that definitely seems like a serious issue that requires attention, but probably not a lot of hostility.
Burma was given in principle the leadership of ASEAN for 2014, an issue of some contention. The last time Burma was to receive the leadership of ASEAN, in 2005, the United States and European Union pressured ASEAN into rejecting it by stating that they would boycott the organization if Burma were to be in charge, for various human rights violations in Burma’s dictatorial regime. The granting of the leadership to Burma in 2014 by ASEAN is contingent on democratic reforms, though. We’ll see if that happens.
The big problem, though, that this year’s conference had to deal with was a border crisis between Thailand and Cambodia. Since February, Thailand and Cambodia have been in a state of armed conflict (about 30 dead and a few thousand dispossessed on both sides) over some disputed territory near an Angkor temple city when Cambodia placed its troops in disputed territories. The problem is a longstanding border conflict. In 1907, a map between France (colonial ruler of Cambodia) and Thailand placed the dcity in dispute in Cambodian territory but much of the land outside of the city in Thai territory. Thailand supports this colonial-era map as legitimte.
Unsurprisingly, Cambodia demands the lands around the city belong to it as well. The result has harmed tourism (as the city is a popular site, or at least was on my travel itinerary before this mess started), and has damaged the credibility of ASEAN to handle regional affairs internally. Cambodia is insisting on UN involvement in the problem, despite being the aggressor. Thailand does not wish for international involvement, though it insists that Cambodia withdraw its troops from the disputed area (something that Cambodia is unwilling to do) while agreeing as well to Indonesian mediation that is occurring presently. The two nations came to a bilateral agreement in 2000, but Cambodia appears unwilling to hold up to its side of the deal. Such is the nature of our world, though.