Washington will not pressure Asean states to join TPP PACT; no priority on rights issues.
THE UNITED STATES will not single out any Asean countries over any controversial issue relating to freedom of expression and other human rights problems like trafficking when US President Barack Obama meets with Southeast Asian leaders at the inaugural US-Asean summit next week, a US diplomat said yesterday.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is scheduled to leave Bangkok on Sunday for California’s Rancho Mirage to attend the two-day summit that starts on Monday.
International human rights groups called on Obama to address freedom of expression and human rights issues with the Asean leaders, especially those from Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar.
“This is about the collective. It is not an opportunity for unnecessary addresses of bilateral issues,” said W Patrick Murphy, deputy chief of mission of the US embassy in Bangkok. “It is really about the relations between the US and the entire Asean, comprising the 10 countries plus the Asean Secretariat.
“It is not the objective of the gathering [to probe these issues]. Some issues might come up during the meeting. But the intention of the meeting is engagement between the president and his 10 counterparts and the Asean Secretary General.
Murphy said with regards to human rights, Obama was expected to collectively speak to the Asean leaders about good governance, respecting civil liberties and the rule of law.
“That’s important to the US and the region,” he said. “We have seen advances [in these areas in Asean] and we’ve seen challenges. But the intention is not to single out or address specific issues of individual countries.
“When leaders arrive, they will be greeted by President Obama in Sunnylands, and of course there will be a lot of interaction during the two-day meeting.”
The government’s deputy spokesman, Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak, said: “The prime minister emphasised the key principle for its relations with foreign countries – that Thailand has dignity and integrity. We are a responsible member of Asean and the international community. As a member of the group, we have to have constructive roles to promote relations and cooperation between Asean and allies.”
Murphy said at the summit Washington would highlight two key messages – the continuation of the Obama administration’s Asia rebalancing policy, and the importance of Southeast Asia to the US.
He said the US and Asean entered into a strategic partnership last November, and this was the first opportunity for their heads of state to meet as well as it being the first Asean summit since its full implementation at the end of last year.
“We feel part of the region, and Southeast Asia is a linchpin for our engagement with all of the Asia Pacific region,” he said. “We are the first dialogue partner of Asean to have a resident ambassador to the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.
“We are a member of the East Asia summit, our president comes to Southeast Asia every year, not to mention other members of the cabinet.”
The summit will be divided into two parts. Economic matters will be discussed on Monday while Tuesday will be devoted to security cooperations including for maritime, Murphy said
President Obama also plans to touch on innovation and entrepreneurship, he said.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive free-trade scheme which four Asean members, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have already joined, will be discussed, he said.
“There will be opportunities to talk about the TPP and its impact on the region but not exclusively for those who are members,” he said. “We heard some Asean countries are interested, and the president might entertain that kind of interest.
“But we are not asking any non-members to join. We have simply provided information such as about the draft agreements and opportunities.”
Many US cabinet members, such as the secretaries of trade and the treasury, will meet with any Asean member interested in joining the TPP scheme, he said.
On the security front, Murphy said the leaders would discuss broad issues such as terrorism and collective security in the region.
The hot topic of the South China Sea, where many Asean members are at loggerheads with China in territorial disputes, could also come up, he said.
The US has a consistent stance on calling for freedom of navigation, finding peaceful solutions to problems and respect for international laws and principles, he said.
“Again for the US, we don’t make any claims and we don’t support any particular claims of one over the other. We are about principles,” he said.