The World in 2:00 – January 25, 2016

The World in 2:00 – January 25, 2016

By Luke Vargas   
Published

John Kerry visits Laos, urging Southeast Asian unity on the South China Sea issue.

From Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, this is your “World in 2:00.” I’m your host Luke Vargas for Talk Media News.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in neighboring Laos on Monday to discuss the South China Sea crisis.

Laos is a landlocked nation, but it’s the rotating head of ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – the regional political body. Kerry’s team sees an opening to this year to build consensus on the South China Sea issue, presenting a united front against what are seen as Chinese land grabs in the contested ocean.

In a press call with reporters before the trip, a senior State Department official said the previous ASEAN chairmanship of Cambodia in 2012 had “left a black mark.”

During that 2012 chairmanship, Cambodia refused to allow reference of the Philippine’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing to be included in the group’s closing statement.

Since then, Cambodia has been accused of being a Chinese mouthpiece within ASEAN. Last year, the country argued that South China Sea disputes should be negotiated one-on-one with Beijing, a policy China supports. Detractors say that strategy favors China, since it allows the country to extract individual concessions and papers over the broader agreement within the ASEAN block.

After all, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines all accuse China of seizing their land.

While in Laos, Secretary Kerry told reporters that the Prime Minister of Laos wanted to see “a unified ASEAN and he wants maritime rights protected.”

Laos held its 10th Communist Party Congress last week, promoting the pro-Vietnamese Bounnhang Vorachit to the role of Secretary-General, and rotating out older officials seen as more pro-China.

And we’re here in Vietnam for another Communist Party Congress, only the 12th in the country since 1935.

2016 is shaping up to be a time of great change in Southeast Asia, perhaps it will also be a year of greater unity.

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