Naypyidaw: Myanmar hopes its first-ever hosting of a summit of Southeast Asian leaders on Sunday will help showcase progress made since the country emerged from a half-century of military rule.
China`s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea is expected to top the agenda, with a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese ships near the Paracel Islands putting a fresh spotlight on long-standing, bitter maritime disputes.
There are conflicting territorial claims over the waters, which hold tremendous strategic importance as one of the world`s biggest shipping lanes.
They are also rich with fish, and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie beneath the seabed. Though the stakes are high, foreign ministers who gathered today ahead of the summit went no further than issuing a statement expressing concern and urging restraint by all parties.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula and Thailand`s political crisis also expected to be on the table.
This is the first time Myanmar is hosting a summit of Southeast Asian heads of state since it joined the 10-member bloc in 1997.
Previously, it was passed over for the chairmanship because of its poor human rights record. Though much work needs to be done, it has implemented sweeping political and economic reforms since ruling generals handed over power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.
Discussions about China one of the few countries to stand by Myanmar when it was under military rule will put the host in a sensitive spot when talks touch on heated maritime disputes.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, comprises 10 nations. The summit, being held in Myanmar`s capital, Naypyidaw, will bring together heads of state from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.