His Majesty hosts Working Dinner for Asean leaders
Siti Hajar & Hakim Hayat

AFTER over a decade since Brunei Darussalam last played host to the 7th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit, the much anticipated 22nd Asean Summit kick-started with the formal gathering of regional heads of states last night in the capital.

Hosted by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Working Dinner that was held in the newly completed Prime Minister’s Office Building in the capital witnessed the first leaders’ meeting for the 22nd Asean Summit.

The 10 Asean leaders with Malaysia being represented by Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang, the President of the Malaysian Senate and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s special representative, as well as Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh, who will meet again today are scheduled to deliberate several earmarked issues centred around the ‘Our People, Our Future Together’ theme. His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and other Asean leaders during the Working Dinner yesterday. - PHOTOS: BAHYIAH BAKIR & DEAN KASSIM

This year’s theme puts great emphasis on the role of the people in the Asean Community, which have gained centrestage in the international arena related to the regional bloc in its pursuit of the Asean 2015 goal and beyond to include stability, peace and economic integration.

Apart from discussing regional economic matters, security issues are also high on the agenda of the summit, as the leaders are expected to push for an early conclusion of a code of conduct over a territorial dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea.

China and several Asean member countries each have overlapping claims over the maritime zone, which for the first time in the regional bloc’s history led to a failed joined communiqué during last year’s Summit in Cambodia.

Also on the agenda is the escalating tension in the Korean peninsula, which worries the region’s leaders.

Philippine President Benigno S Aquino said after Wednesday’s dinner he was pleased the South China Sea issue has been made into a top priority at the summit, and that Asean had rebuilt some unity on the issue.

“Everybody is interested in having a peaceful resolution and also in voicing … concern that there have been increasing disputes,” Aquino told reporters. “We should really be thankful that the whole of the Asean is willing to discuss this instead of putting it on the backburner.”

Asean leaders will make a united call in an end-of-summit statement for talks with China on the issue, but they will avoid any strong language, according to a draft of the document obtained by AFP.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring the peaceful resolution of disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law,” the draft statement said.

Upon arrival at the Prime Minister’s Office building, His Majesty was greeted by Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Minister of Finance II at the Prime Minister’s Office along with Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II and Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Awang Haji Mohammad Yasmin bin Haji Umar, Minister of Energy at the Prime Minister’s Office.

As Chairman of the 22nd Asean Summit, His Majesty then consented to receive the leaders namely: Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia; Thongsing Thammavong, the Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Dato Laila Utama Dr Haji Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of the Republic of Indonesia; Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang, the President of the Senate, Parliament of Malaysia, as the special representative of the Prime Minister of Malaysia; U Thein Sein, the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar; President Benigno S Aquino III, the President of the Republic of the Philippines; Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore; Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of Thailand; and, Nguyen Tan Dung, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

According to a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, discussions during the Working Dinner were focused on areas under the three pillars of the Asean Community, namely Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community along with the challenges in the efforts to achieve the vision of the region’s several objectives.

The 10-nation partnership was established in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand as a means to strengthen economic cooperation and regional stability. This year marks Brunei’s second chairmanship. Brunei’s first chairmanship was in November 2001, where leaders announced the Asean-China Free Trade Area and agreed on the need for a Roadmap for Integration of Asean (RIA).

Today’s retreat session will be followed by the 9th BIMP-EAGA Summit after a luncheon and the 22nd Summit will conclude with a press conference, which will be presided over by His Majesty. - Borneo Bulletin (25 April 2013)