via CAAI News Media
Posted : Thu, 08 Apr 2010
By : dpa
Hanoi - Foreign ministers of the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Thursday signed a protocol on dispute resolution that could be used in several ongoing regional conflicts.
The ASEAN ministers are attending the organization's annual summit meeting in Hanoi amidst disagreements over handling human rights issues in Myanmar and several territorial disputes.
While the procedures of the protocol have not been finalized, some experts said it could mark a major step forward.
"ASEAN used to operate on the basis of consensus, and a single member could block progress," said South-East Asia expert Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Academy.
Thayer said that while the body would still operate consensually, the protocol provided a mechanism for deciding what to do when member states disagreed. The protocol provides for arbitration in case of dispute, followed by a binding decision by the ASEAN Summit.
Thayer said the protocol did not specify what sanctions might follow if a member state refused to comply with an ASEAN decision.
The mechanism is, however, likely to be limited to disputes between ASEAN member states, not internal issues.
The dispute mechanism could be invoked in Thailand's border dispute with Cambodia over an area near the temple at Preah Vihear, which led to armed clashes in 2008 and 2009.
Nazery Khalid of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia said the protocol could help ASEAN member states reach agreement on disputes over maritime territory in the South China Sea.
Host country Vietnam is seeking to convince ASEAN members to settle their internal disagreements over maritime territory in the South China Sea so that the group can negotiate as a bloc with China, which claims most of the sea for itself.
China has resisted that approach and insists on bilateral negotiations with each country. Khalid said Beijing's success in the bilateral approach was a reflection of "ASEAN's weakness."
"ASEAN needs to work towards addressing that, and come up with a more united front," Khalid said.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos and Indonesia.