Foreign ministers and other diplomats from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) are set to begin regional talks in Bali. Talks are expected to focus on the territorial dispute between China and several other members over the South China Sea. The 10 member states have consistently said that their approach to solving regional problems is a peaceful one. But the recent dispute over the waters has heightened tensions in the region.
And it has raised concerns about what continued acrimony between some Asean member states and China – which has become an increasingly important trading partner for the group – means for the region as a whole.
Embarrassment? The South China Sea is home to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, as well as vast reserves of oil and gas. A number of countries have overlapping claims in the area – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Asean says it has to find a way to manage these differences – so as to restore harmony in a region that has become ever more so dependent on China. Meanwhile, the group is also expected to discuss the recent border dispute between Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia, as well as to decide on whether Burma should get the Asean chair in 2014. Human rights groups say that giving Burma the Asean chair would be an embarrassment for the region. How Asean manages these challenges will be seen as an indication of just how effective and relevant the regional grouping is. – BBC