Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

Listen to the international conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 17, 2012 at 3:45 am

Let’s put aside the national conversation and listen to the international one going on instead. Man… it’s very loud. Here we are wondering about what to do about getting people to return their trays at eating places and there is the rest of the world wondering about what to do about dialling down the level of violence.
So the Japanese and the Chinese are literally eyeballing each other over some benighted islands and the Chinese people are asserting their strength of numbers. It’s tough to be a Japanese in any Chinese city but I suppose if they don’t say a word, they could blend in.
At least that fight is a bit further away and unlike what happens whenever the North Koreans are involved – we haven’t heard talk of violence going nuclear! But then there’s that silly video which is making Muslims angry, even the Muslims in next-door Malaysia. So much for the US government distancing itself from the video. No State involvement or sanction, it says. But no, no. just because an American made the video, America must pay. So Google and the likes are blocking access to the video – a small but belated move methinks.
Old historical wounds are being opened up. The Jap-Chinese animosity goes back centuries. The Islam versus the Great Satan debate has always been simmering. Massive diplomatic work and greater economic ties don’t seem to be able to paper over the differences, and the freedom that social media brings only widens gaps. Years of bilateral and international work undone because someone wants to exercise freedom of speech…never mind a dead envoy or two…Crazy.
Can we stay immune? This little red dot? Can we keep our distance even as we host a hotch-potch of nationalities of all races and religions here? Can we still enjoy the luxury of bitching about the MRT and getting frazzled over the need for tuition for our children? Times like this makes the national conversation more, rather than less relevant, methinks. We have to settle what we want our country to be before we can think about insulating ourselves against all that international noise. One reason this LRD has been a calm oasis is that we are rich. Never mind we can’t afford landed property and the income inequality is climbing, the fact is, there’s no enough economic dissatisfaction for others to exploit.
I know we sniff at terms like national resilience, total defence and societal cohesion. I suppose we see them as brainwashing techniques to get people to toe a certain line. But that “line’’ is important – we must all have a say in what that line is and should be. One example: How tough should we get over hate speech? What’s the consensus on this?
Actually I am a bit worried about something that’s happening even further away – in the Artic. Chinese ice-breakers which want to carve out a sea-route that would allow shipping to bypass the Straits of Malacca – our very important economic artery. Will this happen in my life-time or will we see yet another fight for resources there among the Chinese, the Russians and the Canadians before this happens?
I don’t see how Singapore can sit by and make polite noises when this comes to pass. So let’s take stock while we can and add to our strengths. And let’s add some “defence’’ elements into our national conversation. Maybe we should ditch phrases like national resilience et al. Maybe we should just say Be Strong, Stay Strong.


Panda-monium again

In News Reports, Politics on September 3, 2012 at 3:22 am

Now look here…I KNOW the pandas are important. That the Chinese don’t anyhow give them away. That Singapore is among dunno how few countries to have got them. That it symbolises deep, wide, broad, long ties between China and Singapore. That we spent a lot of money to make sure they can survive well here. But, hey, do we need to turn the Prime Minister into some kind of zookeeper?? Page One lead on the national newspaper? And so many pars on how we seem to waiting with bated breath for their arrival?
All I can think of is, it must be a dry news day.
In any case, if we really want the Chinese to feel good, there must be other ways to make the point and still keep pandas somewhere….
Like: China’s gift of pandas signify the strong ties between Singapore and the Chinese province of Szechuan, with trade between the two jumping to US$908 million last year, up 22 per cent from just two years ago.
PM Lee yesterday told his Chinese hosts that Kai Kai and Jia Jia will receive a royal welcome, on the first day of his visit to tour Singapore investments in Szechuan, such as blah blah.
Singapore’s investments climbed 60 per cent to US$652 million last year, making it Szechuan’s fourth largest investor.
Methinks that would be much better….
Actually, the better story would be on what PM said about PCF. Provided that there was some more work done to his general comments. I wonder why no one asked him or PCF head Lawrence Wong about the PCF concerts that are so expensive (which was on Home page 1). After all, the pledge was that PCF would remain affordable. More could also be asked about the SPARKS accreditation, criteria in teacher training etc – 39 of 330 PCF kindergartens have this.
Anyway, I can’t wait for the next panda-monium – when the pandas arrive.

Drama at the Asean House – Finale

In News Reports, Politics on July 13, 2012 at 7:21 am

The story continues….

For the first time since the clan was formed 45 years ago, they didn’t hand out a farewell note – and the host of the  Asean Phnom Penh open house, Cambodia, is LIVID. He looks fit to explode, berating “some” family members for sabotaging the joint communique which would have listed what the elders had decided at the meeting. These people are only interested in getting their own way on the South China Sea, he complained. Holding the communique “hostage” to their bilateral interest, was how he put it.

Who do they think they are?  We’ve got like 100 over good things to say and they are unhappy over just one point and because of these jokers, we can’t issue the farewell note? Irresponsible! Disappointing! Anyway, that’s about the gist of his complaint. Imagine this said in long-winded Khmer, repeated ad nasuem…and badly translated into English.

He said this after every relative had left the house, which is now a thorough wreck. Minor and major relatives had been up all night and the morning, talking at breakfast, lunch, coffeebreak etc trying to get everyone to agree on the words of the joint communique. Alas, it was not to be.

The gloves came off. The Cambodian is pissed because people think it’s HIS fault. He’s chairing the meeting and he is clearly on China’s side, so of course, he wouldn’t want anything down on paper about the South China Sea that would make the Chinese look bad.

The Cambodian is practically yelling now: It’s not my fault! How can you say this? Don’t you remember it was me who started ball rolling 10 years with the Declaration on the Code of Conduct? That was a fine piece of work. It had everything, legal and political principles that say everybody must behave by international maritime law…Now these Filippinos! And these Vietnamese! They want to complicate everything…. Asean is not a tribunal you know. Anyway, its between China and the Vietnamese, and China and the Philippines.

Actually what the Filippinos and Vietnamese want is to have some “newish” words put in the communique: Scarborough Shoal (the P says it’s theirs), continental shelfs and exclusive ecomic zones (where all that oil is). The Cambodian doesn’t think they should be in….

The Philippines isn’t taking this lying down. Deplorable! And how can that Cambodian blame it on us? All we wanted is for some facts to be put in! We should be tackling the issue as a team! But the Cambodians are listening to the Chinese….What the…!

So the Asean house is a total shambles, a failure? So much for Asean unity…

The Cambodian gets angry: Who says it’s a failure?  We agreed on everything else you know

The Asean guardian, the Secretary-General, is diplomatic: It’s a hiccup, he says. These things happen. Points of inflection. We need to do some soul-searching. We had a unique situation. (He’s a master of the art of words which can mean something or nothing)

The Singaporean was sharper: Failure? That’s your word, not mine.

But the Singaporean, who has kept out of the cross-fire, says the Asean image is taking a knock. Dented. Elders are going back to their own leaders with nothing to show after so many days spent together…That communique was to have covered so many things, connectivity, economic integration, cross-border partnerships etc. Then it gets passed to the Asean leaders and the secretariat for work to get done. The ministers, even if not the meeting, “failed”, he said.

The Asean sec-gen calls it a “void” between now and maybe September, when there is a chance for the elders to meet again at the sidelines of a UN conference in Geneva.

Seriously, why not have the communique without those three offending words South China Sea? There are after all, 100-over points to make – and to get down to work on to get the goal of an Asean Community by 2015. The Cambodian himself said he couldn’t understand why not. Seems perfectly reasonable to leave that bit out and settle it separately at a later date. But apparently, other relatives think that such a “censored” communique wouldn’t reflect accurately what went on during the meeting. So it’s all or nothing.

The Asean consensus: Okay, nothing then….

Some elders left last night. There were only five left when the Open House drew to a close today Friday 13. The Cambodians were happy to be rid of everyone, it seems. The gong bangers, always a hungry bunch, thought there would be lunch back at the workplace. But all the stuff had been cleared away….No communique. No lunch.


2nd last episode of Drama at the Asean House

In News Reports, Politics on July 13, 2012 at 1:28 am

The story continues….

The quarrelling among the Asean relatives continues and it’s got so bad that they can’t even agree on what to say in their farewell note. It’s the first time something like this has happened. The Cambodians who are leading this open house still don’t want to piss off the Chinese, while the Philippines still wants to tell the world about what happened in the South China Sea. The Indonesians have stepped in: Hey, hey, we’ve got to agree on something okay? At least to say we enjoyed the food…But no. They can’t even agree that they liked the food.

Funny how in the past, people have criticised the Asean clan for its farewell notes. They are bland, bland, bland. That’s because the family  trys to come up with something everybody is comfortable with – and that means the language gets watered down just to satisfy the most unhappy member of the clan.

The sticking point is the South China Sea and how to manage the dispute over who owns what part. The Chinese want nearly all of that part of the world but Vietnam and the Philippines (as well as quieter members Malaysia and Brunei) don’t want to give up their parts. Vietnam has drawn up its own title deed allowing outsiders to come in and take a look at the oil down in the sea. The Philippines is upset at how their fishermen in their sampans keep bumping into the Chinese junks.

The Chinese aren’t budging at all. The area is theirs, they say. By ancient right, they say. We can talk about it, they say, but ultimately we have to talk about it one-on-one. We don’t like that Code telling us that if anyone doesn’t behave, we should go international and get others to decide over our property. Hey, we’re CHINESE!

The Americans are getting antsy, pulling aside the Chinese to talk to them. They are  on the Asean side, or rather on the Philippines side:. Don’t try using force or threatening the poor little fellows ok? You’ve been scaring them, banning Philippines bananas and all that….And those boats of yours moving in the area, you say they are not navy but they might as well be…We know you’re a big boy but we’re bigger. Okay, a little bigger…We want the South China Sea open and we’re here to stay in Asia. So don’t try anything funny.

Both the Chinese and the Americans have been trying to reach the gong bangers. Of course, when their spear carriers talk to the media, everything looks cosy. The Americans even say the Chinese MIGHT consider sitting down with Asean to draft the code of conduct. They made it clear its  a SMALL possibility though. What they call a “slight indication”. The Chinese told gong bangers they MIGHT sit down and talk, if the conditions are RIPE. In other words, they want to call the shots on when talks can start and exactly what should be talked about. You can bet that they don’t want anything said about settling the dispute written in, not if the method involves other big boys and that old grandfather, the UN.

The good news is that both big boys really want to be friends with Asean. They have to. Asean is getting richer, and countries like Myanmar are opening up. Their businessmen want in on the action. The Americans who didn’t use to care very much about the place have been watching the Chinese courting Asean over the years. The Chinese seem to have a head start, so the Americans must move in. And they are…with money – and aircraft carriers.

As if the Asean family doesn’t have enough trouble, another guest is knocking down tables and chairs in the house.

The Americans, South Koreans and Japanese had gone into the garden to have a little chit chat. That North Korea, the little fellow with the big guns, is making everyone uncomfortable. What if the crazy fellow starts shooting? The trio wants him to put down his guns, throw them in the dustbin. We’re gonna stop him if he starts shooting. Don’t he dare try….Of course the North Korean heard this. He lost his temper…and started swearing.

The Asean family still has some time to tidy up the house, sweep and mop and set the furniture right. Oh, is that a blood stain? They have to face the rest of the world when they leave the disaster zone with their bags. Doubtless, they will give plenty of verbs like resolve, support, consider, note, engage, enhance…and even progress and co-operation. It’s the Asean way – finding a way to save face. Maybe they will say it’s a miracle that everybody got together to sit and talk, that everyone was present, that it wasn’t a full-blown fight although voices were raised. Maybe that’s the extent of their achievement. Maybe they will even say: We are satisfied.

Stay tuned for the last instalment of Drama at the Asean House.

Timing is everything

In News Reports, Politics on July 12, 2012 at 8:56 am

The story continues…

This time, it’s the turn of the Americans to keep everybody waiting. Except they didn’t wait.

Right on 2.15pm, the VIPs gathered for the mega Asean Regional Forum got on the stage for the usual picture to record their presence. Twice: the formal pose which looks like they were facing a firing squad, and the Asean linked arms way which is a bit of a squeeze for the fleshy. Hosts and guests went into the meeting room and sat down – and the Americans came.

The Asean elders must be pretty disappointed that the group picture of Family and Friends has a missing person. How will they ever explain this on their Facebook page? Anyway, no one knows why Hillary Clinton was late. She did look COLD though, wrapping a shawl tightly round her shoulders as she marched in. The Asean house seemed to have turned up the conditioning to cool down tensions.

Some of them had an earlier meeting before lunch, which they call the East Asia Summit. Lots of talk about co-operation, peace and stability. The Chinese side seem determined not to mention those three bad words South China Sea and the even worse phrase, Code of Conduct. They never made it into any formal speeches at the forum.

Unhappy gong bangers had waylaid a junior Chinese minister who gave an interesting tid-bit: – that the Chinese will start negotiations on the code when the time is “ripe”. Ah…When is ripe? What is ripe? Is it still going to be ripe in September, the date everyone was talking about earlier this week? Is that when Asean and China sit down and ….do what? Say they will refrain from coercion, threats, force, intimidation – as Hillary Clinton wants?

That looks easy enough…no? Surely, this is not an episode from the Sopranos…

But the Philippines still seem pretty unhappy. The elder wants the code to be “substantial” and wants it to spell out how the dispute will be resolved. Not enough to just talk and talk. Everybody must leave the Asean house with a solution.

Some people think it might be better to develop disputed property jointly, and split the money evenly.There’s so much money to be made in this fish-rich, oil-rich area….Maybe too much. But working together is what  the Malaysians and Thais are doing in their own disputed part of the sea – and it seems to be working out fine.

Some gong bangers are making much of Clinton’s words that the pact must be resolved “collaboratively” – they think she means taking the dispute to a multi-lateral or international level. Now if the intepretation is correct, the Chinese are going to be mightily unhappy.

Frankly, no one looks happy at this open house…some look positively grim.

There’s still time to fix things and make sure no one does a high noon on the high seas.  The Americans are meeting the Japanese, themselves really unhappy with the Chinese for presuming the Senkakus was its Daiyou. The Americans are meeting the Chinese too. Then the Americans are meeting the press. The Japs will do so tomorrow – before the Asean elders do theirs.

This is going to be one big fight over property.

A house on shifting sands

In News Reports, Politics on July 12, 2012 at 2:35 am

Guide to reader: You’ve got to read from the pretty girl blog earlier to make sense of this…This is a drama serial…

The story continues

The Asean house is in a shambles. Among the Asean clan, some fierce staring fights have started. Cambodia wants to go easy on its big friend China and the Philippines is pissed. It’s so pissed that it decided to piss off China by announcing that it will open up some of its property in the South China Sea to oil companies. It knows China will be upset – because China thinks it owns practically the whole area. Maybe the Philippines is doing this because its own big friend, the US, has just entered the Asean house.

In the meantime, the Asean relatives are trying their best to find some kind of middle ground between the two sides. It has to, or how else is it going to face China? Some want a joint statement to refer to the clashes that have taken place in the South China Sea, but others think not. Better not piss off China too much. That joint communique is going to be very dis-jointed…

Now, the house is host to yet another problem – its guests are trampling on each other. Japan is pissed that the Chinese sent boats near its own part of the East China Sea. Of course, China says it’s theirs…It wanted to call in the Chinese ambassador to Tokyo and give him a slap on the wrist. Nothing doing, said Beijing.

Now the Chinese and the Japanese are meeting face-to-face in front of everyone and trying their level best to be nice. But civility is wearing off. Both are claiming ancient, historic rights to that part of the world. You wonder which map they are looking at….How ancient is ancient? The days of Marco Polo?

The Americans came in with a big crew of spear carriers, gong bangers and business chieftains. It said that yes, Asia is a big priority. Yes, Asean is at the centre. And to put its money where its mouth is, it”s coming up with a new programme to enhance its “strategic engagement”. Think more money, more linkages…ooooh…the ties that bind.

There are plenty of other guests hanging around, like the Brits, Koreans (both North and South) and India et al. Wonder what they make of all of this? Probably going: Let them fight…we can think later about which side to take. Of course, we’ll take the winning side…

In an hour, the Asean relatives will meet the East Asian guests…Now who will keep who waiting?

The story continues…

Region on edge as tensions mount

In News Reports, Politics on July 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm

This is not my usual blog-style I know….but things are getting real exciting in Phnom Penh. And old habits die hard.

PHNOM Penh – Tensions are mounting here as the big players arrive for the annual Asean Regional Forum amid controversial moves over the South China Sea.

The Philippines, the most vocal opponent of China’s claims over a slice of the ocean, today  decided to bid out three parcels of the disputed territory to oil companies. Coming on the day of Asean-China talks, it amounts to a deliberate provocation, complicating Asean’s bid to find a way to ease tensions.

In fact, Filippino representatives have been deliberately cool towards their Chinese counterparts. While various Asean members, including Vietnam, a South China Sea claimant, are scheduling bilateral meetings with the Chinese along the sidelines of the annual Asean ministerial meeting, the Filippinos are practically pouting.

Yet the Manila move is no different from what China had done earlier – with Vietnam. It too had bid out blocks which Vietnam also claims, after Vietnam approved internal legislation claiming the territory as their own.

But Vietnam, a co-chair of the Asean-China meeting held today, has maintained a stiff upper lip during the run-up to the meetings, even as it quietly endorses the street demonstrations that are taking place in Hanoi. Media reports in Vietnam deliberately down play the Asean meetings that relate to  the conflict, perhaps with an eye on placating the resident super power.

The tit-for-tat game being played out over the resource-rich area that started in April and has been escalating since, is taking a toll on Asean’s efforts to draw up a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. The Philippines wants a united Asean front, a binding pact that will take the matter all the way to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, where it stands the best chance of flying its flag over Scarborough Shoal.

Other Asean members are chary of such a move, which will anger and alienate the Chinese further. Already, harsh noises are being heard from Beijing warning others against “hyping” the issue, making it an “Asean versus China” matter, or even placing it formally on the Asean agenda. It is sticking to its guns: Only bilateral settlements with individual  Asean claimants can serve as the final resolution to the dispute.

The Asean meetings had started promisingly enough earlier this week, with the Chinese agreeing to start discussions with Asean on the code, possibly in September. But Asean members are now divided on the elements that should be included in the code, with the Philippines wanting specific mention of past clashes.  An Asean-China meeting today was delayed for an hour by the Chinese delegation, leading to speculation that it was unhappy with the draft of a joint communique on the meeting.

The United States can be expected to weigh in. Hillary Clinton, after a whirlwind tour of Vietnam and Laos, arrived as scheduled for the Asean-US meeting, held immediately after that for the Chinese. She reiterated the US’ “enduring commitment” to its “elevated strategic priority in foreign policy” – Asia. The ensueing superpower rivalry has caused some concern among Asean members that the region will yet again become a pawn in the power game. Yet others see some gain, either in terms of extracting concessions or having both superpowers keeping each other on a leash.

The South China Sea dispute will draw in other players too. Malaysia and Brunei are claimants as well but seem to be keeping well out of the firing line.

Another more- than- interested onlooker is Japan, an Asean dialogue partner, which is also in a territorial tussle with China.  Today, three Chinese patrol boats approached a remote chain of islands which the Japanese call Senkaku in the East China Sea. Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador, a representation which Beijing was swift to reject. Today, their respective foreign minsters traded barbed words.

Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day.

PS: I would have done more due diligence and added more background on South China Sea…but, hey, it’s a blog lah.

Late to the party

In News Reports, Politics on July 11, 2012 at 10:40 am

If you are invited to tea at the home of someone you respect, do you go early, on time or an hour late?

That was how long the Chinese kept the Asean relatives waiting in their Phnom Penh home yesterday. The Filipino had been warming her seat more than an hour (okay she was early – and she probably has a lot to say and needed to get psyched up) The rest were in their seats soon after. They waited and waited. Then they got up for loo breaks, to bring in cups of coffee or move around the room backslapping one another and making small talk.

The Vietnamese elder, who was supposed to chair the meeting with the Chinese, had walked in earlier – and walked out. Apparently, the absent Chinese needed his presence away from the bystanders and gong bangers who were gathered in the room to take pictures.

As is always the case with media people, the gossip mill went into overdrive. The more conspiracy-minded thought the Chinese were being tardy on purpose. They had always said they didnt want to discuss the South China Sea so maybe the strategy was to get to the meeting with just half an hour to spare.

Others noted that the elders in the room were actually minor relatives. The senior ones. the ministers, were away in another room trying to bang out a statement that would say that something had been achieved between the clan and the Chinese – even if nothing was.

It seems that the Asean countries have sort of agreed among themselves that the quarrel should be solved within the context of the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation (which is itself pretty vague) and failing which, it can go up to the UN. But there’s some talk that it isn’t all so hunky dory on the Asean front. Some relatives had stronger views on the issue than others. Plus, what does China make of all of this? Makes you wonder what kind of statement will emerge from the clan that would satisfy everyone. As well as the Chinese.

When the Viet co-chair and the Chinese entered the room, it was down to business immediately. The Vietnamese talked about how Asean-China relations had been broadening and deepening over the years, and the burgeoning trade and economic relations. He threw in a lot of stats. All very nice, but everyone had their ears peeled for three words – South China Sea.

They were uttered: Eseentally, he said that they should start to talk FORMALLY about hammering out a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, To adopt guidelines set in July 2011 on this issue. To get the 2012 workplan going.

The other co-chair, the Chinese Foreign Minister, whom everybody had been waiting for, spoke in English, much to everyone’s relief.. (When he did so in Mandarin yesterday, a mild panic went through the media and delegates who rushed to put on their translation sets). BUT he did not say those three words at all. Instead he went on about the Asean spirit, about how it was one community. About how the region, including Asean, was high on China’s diplomatic agenda.

Then the gong bangers were shooed out….so that they can hear the interesting parts.

Oh, and the big fellow arrived. On time. The Asean relatives went from the Chinese room – into the American room….

The story continues…

Leaving on a jet plane

In News Reports, Politics on July 11, 2012 at 3:53 am

So kiss me and smile for me.

Tell me that you’ll wait for me…

Hold me close and never let me go…

Coz I’m leaving on a jet plane….

The gong bangers are waiting. That much anticipated meeting between the Asean elders and the Chinese that was supposed to happen in the morning has been delayed. Afternoon at 3pm, then aftenoon at 4pm. No reason given. Seems like the Chinese need time to dress, or decide what carrots or sticks to bring to the table. After all, never mind what they say about not talking about the South China Sea, the Asean elders are going to want to bring it up.

Just like yesterday. There was a meeting between Asean and the Plus 3 countries – Japan, South Korea and China. It was meant to be more about economics, about enhancing “connectivity”, about celebrating the 15th anniversary of Asean Plus 3 with concerts and a symposium. A gong banger asked if the South China Sea was raised. The Asean spokesman looked like he wanted to shoo the gong banger out of the house – yes, very briefly. By who? The Philippines. The Asean spokesman walked out in a huff.

It’s no wonder that the Philippines brought up the issue. Together with Vietnam, it’s quarrelling with China over the sea. And the Philippines haven’t been quiet about it. Very noisy, in fact. After all, they’ve got the Americans on their side. And they’ve said they don’t want to talk to the Chinese alone in a room – not at this open house. The Vietnamese? They’ve made a date with the Chinese for later in the day, probably after the big showdown.

What about the Americans? The big fellow is supposed to meet the Asean elders in the afternoon too. But the gong bangers are hearing something else. Apparently, the Americans only want to talk tomorrow – after the Chinese. They probably want to see what the Chinese say, before putting their oar in. Or maybe Hillary Clinton hasn’t left Vietnam in her jet plane….

The gong bangers are going to have lunch. It’s spaghetti again.

The story continues…

The courting begins

In News Reports, Politics on July 11, 2012 at 3:00 am

So will the spat over the South China Sea be resolved in Phnom Penh or not? The bottomline: Asean and China are still trying to agree on the “elements” of a Code of Conduct. Apparently, Asean wants it to be binding (how we don’t know) and based on the UN Convention of Law of the Sea. Except that China’s claims will fail on this front, because its claiming practically everything while the limits placed by maritime law is much less, like 200 nautical miles from where ever each claimaint is.

The story so far:

The visitors have started arriving for the Asean open house, along with their spear carriers (delegation spokesmen) and gong-bangers (media). One suitor, China, has its spear carriers in over-drive. They have been sending missives to the media covering the open house – individual emails through the night. Whatever happened to data protection? How did they get all these emails? Never mind, any info is better than no info.

The missives are about the Chinese Foriegn minister meeting individual Asean releatives, from Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia. The Chinese have been very busy. More important missives are those to do with the main issue at hand: the South China Sea. It talks about settling things amicably, peacefully – very diplomatic stuff compared to what they are saying back in Beijing: Don’t hype it up! We shouldn’t even be talking about it at the meeting!

In the morning, banana cupcakes are running out as soon as they are laid on the reception table. The gong bangers are hungry. Hungry for information too. So they waylay the Asean secretary-general, forced him into a corner and made him give up what he knows about the South China Sea.

Turns out not very much. But as the foremost Asean elder, he makes nice-sounding noises about everybody “agreeing to move on” on the issue.

They also wanted to know about plans to make South east Asia a nuclear weapons free zone. Asean’s senior relatives had been quite certain that the five big powers would sign up for it – and had actually placed them as part of the open house programme. But four of the big visitors threw a spanner in the works, and said they had too many problems with it. Like the Russians: How do we defend our borders then? The UK even had a problem with the definition of a nuclear weapons free zone.

The Asean elder put his best face on: We’ll continue talking and we might just get everything signed in November when our clan leaders meet. He leaves. He and the senior relatives have a full day of meetings with the visitors, starting with the Australians and Japan.

Japan seems to be feeling a bit left out of the South China Sea conflict. It has a quarrel going on with China too, about islands that it wants to buy from the Chinese. The Chinese said no. So the Japanese want to hold a maritime summit, and get everybody who has a problem with China involved.

As the day moves on at a dreary pace, three-in-one coffee packets are being snapped up. The gong-bangers want to know what’s for lunch. Yesterday, it was hamburgers, the day before, spaghetti bolognaise that was so spicy, the Caucasians couldn’t swallow it.

Everybody’s waiting for the other big visitor, the US. The Americans have been sight-seeing in the region, and are coming in from Vietnam. They are more muted than before, and are not likely to bang drums like they did in Hanoi in 2010. They SAY they are more interested in trade and economics, and are bringing along their business people. The Asean relatives can expect them to bring some gifts.

The story continues…..