Southeast Asian leaders begin ASEAN Summit amid 'major power rivalries'

Southeast Asian leaders begin ASEAN Summit amid 'major power rivalries'

ASEAN Summit in Hanoi
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc speaks at the opening ceremony of the 37th ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Kham

HANOI: Southeast Asian leaders kicked off a multilateral summit on Thursday (Nov 12) expected to address tensions in the South China Sea and tackle plans for a post-pandemic economic recovery in a region where US-China rivalry has been rising.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has so far not been "drawn into the maelstroms" of those rivalries and challenges to the international multilateral system, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in his opening remarks at the 37th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi.

READ: PM Lee says Singapore to contribute US$100,000 to COVID-19 ASEAN fund, hails RCEP signing as 'major achievement'

ASEAN Summit in Hanoi
A military soldier stands guard at the ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov 12, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Kham)

"Three quarters of a century have passed since the end of the Second World War. World peace and security, however, are not yet truly sustainable," said Phuc, whose government holds the chairmanship of the 10-member bloc in 2020.

"This year, they are particularly under greater threat as a result of compounding risks arising from the unpredictable conduct of states, major power rivalries and frictions," Phuc said.

ASEAN Summit in Hanoi
Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary and State President Nguyen Phu Trong (centre) walks past flags of the ASEAN member countries before the opening ceremony of the 37th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov 12, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Kham)

High on the summit's agenda will be tensions in the South China Sea, where Chinese ships have been embroiled in periodic standoffs with vessels from Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia as Beijing seeks to assert its territorial claims in the disputed waterway.

China claims about 80 per cent of the sea including large swathes of Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as well as the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands. It also overlaps the EEZs of ASEAN members Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Since mid-August, the United States has repeatedly riled China by sending warships to the South China Sea and has blacklisted 24 Chinese entities over their involvement in building and militarising artificial islands.

ASEAN Summit in Hanoi
Vietnamese performers in traditional dressing from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) perform at the opening ceremony of the 37th ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Kham

ASEAN leaders are also expected to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on Sunday in what could become the world's biggest trade agreement.

READ: Asia Pacific leaders to sign RCEP trade deal amid US election uncertainty

The deal, which comes at a time when tensions over the US election result leave questions over Washington's engagement in the region, will likely cement China's position more firmly as an economic partner with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, and put it in a better position to shape the region's trade rules.

Source: Reuters/jt

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