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Southeast Asia nations meet: a look at the top issues, what's at stake and who's involved
BALI, Indonesia (AP) ' President Barack Obama and leaders from the East Asian region gather in Bali beginning Thursday for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They will discuss recent flare-ups in the South China Sea and other issues that threaten to undermine regional economic and security.
' Heads of state from the ASEAN countries ' Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam ' along with leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Most closely watched will be Obama, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
' The South China Sea: Disputes will dominate talks as regional leaders try to build on progress made in July toward drafting guidelines to govern behavior in some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The waters, also rich with fish and believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves, are claimed in their entirety by China and in part by several ASEAN nations. Vietnam and the Philippines accuse Beijing of trying to intimidate their fishing and resource exploration crews. China's agreement to help draft a code of conduct that would require disputes to be solved peacefully and without threats was considered as huge breakthrough because it had resisted doing so for years. ASEAN now wants to make sure it can keep up the momentum.
' Myanmar: Southeast Asian nations are widely expected to announce that Myanmar will take over the chairmanship of the regional bloc in 2014, even though the U.S. and others believe it's too soon to reward the new government for fledging reforms. In the last year, Myanmar has officially handed power to a civilian administration after a half-century of military rule, released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, and eased restrictions on the media. Some ASEAN countries believe it should be asked to take more steps ' like releasing political prisoners.
' ASEAN Community: Southeast Asian nations will try to overcome obstacles ' like disparate political and economic systems ' as they push for an integrated EU-style community by 2015. All members support regional integration, but there are disputes about the pace. The biggest challenge is creating a common market that supports business and drives growth for all 10 countries. Talk of a common currency has suffered a blow because of troubles within the European Union.