Asean Should Take Lead to Promote Peace, Vietnam Says

July 20 (Bloomberg) — Southeast Asian nations should take the lead in promoting regional peace, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said ahead of a security forum this week involving the world’s biggest powers.

“Asean should further demonstrate its ability and role as a leading force for the promotion of dialogue and cooperation,” Dung said at the opening ceremony in Hanoi of a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi are among officials set to attend the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi on July 23, where they will meet with envoys from 24 nations and the European Union. The U.S. has been critical of China’s military buildup, and the March sinking of a South Korean warship that it blamed on North Korea underscored the potential for conflict in waters vital to global trade

“Asean can play a role in helping the two giants manage their issues,” said Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “There is a different dynamic when everyone is in the room. Everyone has to appeal to arguments that appear the most rational.”

Vietnam holds the chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hosts the annual security gathering. Dung urged participants to “promote the effective functioning” of regional treaties, including those dealing with the South China Sea and the outlawing of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia. Last month, Myanmar, an Asean member, denied media reports that it was seeking to acquire nuclear arms.

Spratly Islands

Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, all Asean members, claim all or part of the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, which may contain oil and gas reserves. China asserts sovereignty over the entire sea for itself and submitted a map to the United Nations last year to press its claim.

The Asean gathering also comes as the U.S. and South Korea prepare to announce a military exercise to deter North Korea after an international panel said it torpedoed one of the South’s warships, killing 46 sailors. China, which cut off high- level military exchanges with the U.S. in January over arms sales to Taiwan, has declined to blame North Korea for the sinking. North Korea, which has denied responsibility, plans to send its foreign minister to this week’s meeting in Hanoi.

Vietnam, which joined Asean in 1995, has the third-biggest population of the group’s member states, with its 87 million people accounting for about 15 percent of the total. Average economic growth has exceeded 7 percent during the past decade, pushing its per-capita income past the $1,000 mark. The government is targeting a figure of as much as $3,000 by 2020.

Asean encompasses Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Its combined gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion is about a tenth the size of the 27-member European Union.

–With reporting by Bomi Lim in Hanoi and Jason Folkmanis in Berkeley, California. Editors: Bill Austin, Beth Thomas

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