11/19/2012, 00.00
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The Asean summit on the South China Sea and human rights is a flop

Pressure from China is likely to undermine the diplomatic efforts of the summit, which would like to adopt a common code of conduct to prevent tension on the disputed territories. The leaders signed a declaration on human rights full of grey areas, while Obama flies to Myanmar for a "historic" visit but "not one of support" for the Burmese government.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - The Asean summit being held in Phnom Penh is likely to flop because of pressure from China, which in no way intends to allow any supranational body to settle the territory's unresolved issues. The member countries have tried to convince Beijing to adopt a multilateral approach in terms of territorial disputes, but without success: to try to keep up appearances, they then signed a declaration on human rights which in practice does not change the current situation one iota.

For almost 10 years the Asean bloc has been trying to come up with a code of conduct signed by all to prevent fishing accidents, those related to the exploitation of oil fields or those relating to islands on which there are conflicting claims. At the moment the most urgent cases are those of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands (disputed by Beijing and Tokyo), those of the Dokdo/Takeshima (involving Tokyo and Seoul) and especially the strong issue of the Spratlys and Paracels Islands claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan.

However, up to now China has resisted every pressure, indicating that it feels the best way is that of bilateral relations. A position already confirmed by the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, according to whom the discussions "should be engaged in between China and the individual stakeholders." In support of Beijing there is also Cambodia, which, due to its close alliance with China, has always supported Beijing's position.

The Chinese press has reported on the meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Burmese counterpart Hun Sen: the two, according to the China Daily and the Global Times, "have stated that the issue should not block Chinese relations with Asean". On the other hand, Beijing is the group's largest trading partner.

The leaders of the Asian-Pacific countries also agreed to sign a declaration - non-binding and full of grey areas - on the issue of human rights. Despite Washington's requests and those of several NGOs, yesterday the heads of state and of government agreed on a deal that - according to critics - does not prevent new atrocities. The declaration calls for the end of torture, arbitrary arrests and other human rights violations committed in the member countries. In addition, the signatories commit themselves to "promote and protect human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance."

However, the text provides broad exemptions "for reasons of national security, public order or morality." In addition, the text reads, "the realization of human rights should be considered in the regional and national context, having clear in mind the difference between the various countries in the political, economic, legal, social, cultural, historical and religious context." They are in fact the same words the Chinese government has always used to justify the atrocities and abuses committed in its country.

Through a spokesman, Obama, too, criticized the agreement, then flying to Myanmar. Before leaving for this "historic" visit, the U.S. president wanted to make clear in a press conference that "this is not an endorsement of the Burmese government. This is an acknowledgement that there is a process under way inside that country."



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