Peace and stability have been the cornerstones of strong economic growth in Southeast Asia and the Pacific over the past half-century. The Association of Southeast Nations has been central to the creation of stability and the preservation of peace.
Now the 10 states that comprise Asean have a chance to establish the rules of engagement among the competing powers for the next 50 years. If Asean can continue to play a stabilizing role, it will further uplift the lives of its 600 million inhabitants.
Asean foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh will try to advance a human rights declaration that will bind the group and nudge Myanmar toward greater democracy and freedom. Asean’s approach toward Mynamar has been vindicated by the recent openness in the once-secluded nation.
Asean’s leadership will also be tested by how it ensures that the South China Sea remains peaceful given the growing tension between China and several states that claim territorial rights over crucial areas.
The 10 Asean foreign ministers are scheduled to hold security talks with representatives from 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific in the Asean Regional Forum in Cambodia this week.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join the meeting on Thursday, with counterparts from China, Japan, the Koreas and Australia also set to attend. The outcome of the talks will have a significant impact on whether the region continues to enjoy peace and prosperity in the future or deteriorates into tension that escalates into conflict.
Indonesia, the largest economy and country within Asean, will play a crucial role in the talks. It will try to convince Asean to push China to accept a legally-binding “code of conduct” in the South China Sea. It is in every nation’s interest to ensure the success of the talks.