ASEAN Leaders Meet; Security and Burma at Forefront

Posted November 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Regional leaders have approved Burma's bid to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters the government heads agreed to the bid on the first day of their annual summit in Bali Thursday.

Human rights groups and some foreign governments have opposed the bid, arguing that Burma first should do more to provide democratic freedoms. But ASEAN foreign ministers recommended the move earlier this week, saying it would help spur Burmese reforms.

The 10 ASEAN members also were expected to address a number of security and economic issues. They will be joined later this week by the heads of eight regional powers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who on Wednesday announced plans to station up to 2,500 U.S. Marines in Australia.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Natalegawa told reporters in Bali Thursday that the deployment must be handled in a transparent way so there are no misunderstandings.

The appropriateness of the deployment already has been questioned by China, which is engaged in a diplomatic dispute with neighbors Vietnam and the Philippines over conflicting claims in the South China Sea. Chinese spokesman Liu Weimin said China does not have any objection against countries developing normal diplomatic relations as long they take into consideration other nations in the region.

The issue is expected to be discussed at the summit.

Host President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he is encouraged by a preliminary agreement on the issue reached between China and ASEAN members at a meeting earlier this year.

Mr. Yudhoyono also stressed the need for the region to sustain economic growth.