HUA HIN, Thailand — Asian leaders will pledge to overcome their differences and push towards the formation of an EU-style community as they wrap up an annual summit in Thailand on Sunday.
Human rights issues, border disputes and signs of apathy over a meeting that was twice delayed by protests have at times marred the gathering of leaders from a region that contains more than half the world’s population.
But plans to increase the region’s global clout by building closer ties eventually dominated the three-day meeting of Southeast Asian nations along with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Heads of state at the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin will sign a raft of agreements Sunday on boosting economic and political integration and cooperating on subjects including climate change and disaster management.
Japan’s proposal for a so-called East Asian community will be up for further discussion, after Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said the region should “have the aspiration that East Asia is going to lead the world.”
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also set to restate its commitment to create its own political and economic community by 2015.
Asia has made a more rapid recovery from the global economic crisis than the United States and other western countries and sees itself in a position to boost its international influence.
But renewed criticism over the region’s stance on human rights has taken the shine off the summit.
Activists have slammed the leaders in Hua Hin for barely mentioning the continued detention by Myanmar’s military junta of pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
ASEAN called for free and fair elections in Myanmar in 2010 but failed to call for the release of the 64-year-old Suu Kyi.
Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein told his counterparts that the regime could relax the conditions of her house arrest, which was extended by 18 months in August.
The launch of what ASEAN said was a “historic” rights commission on Friday was meanwhile overshadowed by the barring of several leading campaigners from a meeting with the region’s leaders to discuss the new body.
Divisions between key regional countries also undermined the supposed theme of unity.
Beijing has voiced its opposition to a recent visit by Singh to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian border state at the core of the dispute, and to a planned visit there next month by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
India and China clashed in 1962 in the area.
Host nation Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia remained at loggerheads over the fate of fugitive former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, after Cambodian premier Hun Sen offered him a job as his economic adviser.
Around 18,000 troops and dozens of armoured vehicles have been deployed in Hua Hin after the Asian summit was twice postponed by anti-government protests led by supporters of the exiled Thaksin.
They stormed the previous venue of the summit in the coastal town of Pattaya in April, forcing some leaders to flee by helicopter or boat and prompting demands by Asian leaders for a major security review.
By Danny Kemp
October 25, 2009