NAYPYIDAW, May 10, /ITAR-TASS/. Myanmar will host on Saturday the 24th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which is expected to focus on tension in the South China Sea and the establishment of common economic space inside ASEAN.
Though Myanmar is an ASEAN member of 17-years standing, the issue of its presidency was postponed as its government was repeatedly criticized by the international community for human rights violations. An official at the organizing committee of the two-day forum told Itar-Tass that the high level of the event "should show a new Myanmar which has stepped on the path of democratic reforms."
A large congress hall had been built in the capital for the Naypyidaw forum, and the organizers had taken extra security measures with 10,000 police watching law and order. Some 400 reporters will cover the summit.
The leaders of all ASEAN states except Thailand are expected to attend. Thailand will be represented by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow, as the Kingdom's Constitutional Court ruled on May 7 to suspend the Thai premier and the foreign minister.
On Saturday, ASEAN summit events will take place at the ministerial level. The heads of state and prime ministers will join forum meetings and discussions on Sunday.
One of the key agenda items is partners' readiness to launch the ASEAN Economic Community, to lower trade barriers in the region and lift restrictions on the movement of labor force. The economic community, built on the principles similar to the European Union's, is expected to be established by the end of 2015.
"The summit's decisions related to preparations for the establishment of the ASEAN Community are of special interest to us," Russia's permanent representative to ASEAN, Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Mikhail Galuzin, told Itar-Tass.
Creating the ASEAN Community 2015 will provide more opportunities for cooperation not only with Russia, but also with the Eurasian Economic Union.
"The Eurasian integration project of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia has been making headway," Galuzin said. \
"We're entering the final stage of preparations for signing the EurAsEc treaty in 2015. Hopefully, EurAsEc will become an effective link between Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region, a needed partner in the world economy. The practically simultaneous establishment of the ASEAN Community and EurAsEc in 2015 will certainly open additional opportunities for interaction between two large economic integration projects."
Aside from economic topics, the Myanmar forum will consider important regional political issues. The tension in the South China Sea will be a hot issue, experts said. In the beginning of this month, Chinese authorities launched exploration work on the continental shelf near the Spratly archipelago and the Paracel Islands, 120 nautical miles off the Vietnamese coast.
Hanoi believes that the district is part of its exclusive economic zone, but Beijing claimed that territory, too. This week, several Vietnamese coastguard vessels entered the drilling zone and Chinese ships tried to edge them out. Both sides used water cannons in direct clashes.
ASEAN and China have been in talks for a decade over a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Aside from China and Vietnam, islands in this sea are claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Geologists reported a possibility of large oil deposits in the district's offshore zone.
ASEAN summiteers are expected to amend the ASEAN Charter and discuss the situation in Thailand which found itself on the brink of civil war because of a grave political conflict.
Earlier, the Thai Foreign Ministry said ASEAN had drawn a document supporting democratic elections in the Kingdom, which the opposition had been seeking to cancel.
ASEAN brings together ten Southeast Asia states: Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore.