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21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh - “One Community, One Destiny”

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The 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit "One Community, One Destiny".opened in Phnom Penh Sunday, bringing together leaders from 10 ASEAN member countries, as well as the leaders from the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand, reports.

The summit is expected to tackle a range of issues: maintaining ASEAN Community peace and security, focusing on bruising territorial rows, human rights pact, deadly ethnic unrest in Myanmar, disputes with China over competing claims to the strategically vital South China Sea.

Founded in 1967, ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The maritime tensions are expected to be high on the agenda at the summit in Cambodia, as well as two days of expanded talks that will include US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

As ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said to channelnewsasia reporters: "Both sides, all sides, are committed to communicate... to the global community that things are under control. We have differences but we can manage."

Rival claims to the South China Sea have for decades made the waterways, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to sit atop vast natural resources, a potential military flashpoint.

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the sea, including waters close to the coasts of its Asian neighbours.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also have sometimes overlapping claims to the sea.

While Surin insisted that tensions had eased since then, analysts said the presence of Obama and Wen at the two-day East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh starting on Monday risked inflaming the situation.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is not attending the summit, but it does not mean that Moscow has no interests in this region, reports Russian newspaper Kommersant. Russia is interested in strengthening its economic integration with the South-East Asian countries, up to the extent of establishing a free trade area between countries of ASEAN bloc and Customs Union, said to Kommersant the source in the Russian delegation, headed by Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov. And the foundations could be laid today.

ASEAN leaders and six regional super powers outside the bloc (China, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan) are planning to adopt a declaration on launching the talks on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), on the basis of which in 2015 the biggest free trade zone in the world could be established.

The objective of RCEP is to attain a comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that involves deeper engagement than the existing ASEAN FTAs.

And the dividends could be substantial. After creation of a free trade area in 2010 between China and ASEAN countries, the trade turnover increased to $300 bn and continues to increase.

WKT citing the world press

November 20 2012, 15:52

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