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Obama optimistic on change in Myanmar, more work to be done

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5:59am EST

NAYPYITAW Myanmar (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he is optimistic about political change in Myanmar but that more work was needed to push forward with reforms.

"I'm confident there will be a completely new day for Myanmar," Obama told reporters after meeting law makers in the country's capital, Naypyitaw. "The work is not done here."

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was among the law makers at the meeting.

Among key questions still facing Myanmar were protecting minority rights and the power of the military, Obama said.

 

China offers ASEAN friendship as South China Sea tension bubbles

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6:47am EST

By Simon Webb and Paul Mooney

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang proposed a friendship treaty with Southeast Asian countries on Thursday but reiterated that territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be settled directly between countries involved.

China, Taiwan and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have competing claims in the sea where concern is growing of an escalation in disputes even as the claimants work to establish agreements to resolve them.

"China … stands ready to become the first dialogue partner to sign with ASEAN a treaty of friendship and cooperation," Li told leaders at an East Asian summit in Myanmar.

The treaty is seen as an attempt by China to dispel any notion it is a threat.

Li said China was willing to sign legal documents with more countries on good-neighborliness and friendship.

Still, he reiterated China's resolve to safeguard its sovereignty and its position that disputes over the South China Sea should be settled bilaterally rather than collectively or through arbitration.

The Philippines, one of the ASEAN claimants, has irked China by seeking international arbitration over China's claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Diplomatic sources from the Philippines reacted coolly to China's treaty proposal, saying it lacked substance and was similar to a 2012 proposal made by Manila and ignored by Beijing.

ASEAN leaders hoped to persuade their giant neighbor to take a less bellicose approach to the overlapping claims when they met the Chinese leader behind closed doors on Thursday.

But despite the backroom talk, ASEAN as a group has been reluctant to antagonize China. Its Chairman's Statement on Thursday showed little change since foreign ministers met in August.

"We remain concerned over the situation in the South China Sea," the group said without mentioning China.

The Philippines and Vietnam have sought closer U.S. ties to counter what they see as China's aggression.

In May, China sent an oil drilling rig to waters claimed by Vietnam, sparking deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.

U.S. President Barack Obama, also in Naypyitaw for the East Asian summit, held his first formal meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dong on Thursday.

"We very much share the belief that it is important for all countries in the region, large and small, to abide by rules based norms in resolving disputes," Obama said.

On Oct. 2, the United States decided to start easing a nearly four-decade lethal arms embargo on Vietnam.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA, Matt Spetalnick in NAYPYITAW and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Robert Birsel)

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Five things to look out for at the G20

Jamie Smyth

©Getty

Global Growth

Coming at the end of a long week of sumiteering in Asia, this weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane may not provide anything as dramatic as the last-minute US-China deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions announced at Apec. But concerns over the health of the global economy could lead to testy exchanges between leaders over Europe and particularly Germany’s, failure to stimulate the eurozone’s moribund economy.

 

 

 

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Jack Lew, US Treasury secretary, got the ball rolling on Thursday warning of a “European lost decade” and calling for “resolute action” by authorities. He also urged Japan to implement structural reforms – the third arrow of “Abenomics”. With eurozone economic figures due to be published on Friday, all eyes will be on Angela Merkel, German chancellor, for any hints of a change in tone in Europe’s biggest economy.

Tax avoidance

G20 leaders are expected to endorse the OECD’s proposed changes to tax rules aimed at cracking down on multinational tax avoidance. The focus on tax may prove a little uncomfortable for Jean-Claude Juncker, who took over as European Commission president two weeks ago. He has come under pressure following the publication of leaked documents showing how Luxembourg helped more than 340 companies shave tax bills while he was prime minister of the Grand Duchy. “There is no conflict of interest,” he told reporters this week. Now he’ll have to convince his fellow leaders.

Shirt-fronting

It is not G20 protesters threatening disorder in Brisbane but none other than host Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister and a former student boxer. Last month Mr Abbott pledged to “shirt front” Vladimir Putin, Russian president and a judo expert, over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. “Shirt fronting” is a term used in Australian rules football to describe an aggressive tackle delivered to the chest of an opponent.

A 15-minute bilateral meeting hastily arranged at Apec this week between Mr Abbot and Mr Putin sought to hose down tensions before the G20. But the appearance of four Russian warships in waters to the north of Australia this week has ensured Russian-Australian relations will remain in the spotlight.

Climate change

This is the issue that Australia, the world’s second-biggest coal exporter, did not want to talk about at the G20, preferring instead to narrow the summit agenda to a discussion of the global economy. But the China-US deal at Apec has focused attention on the measures countries will take to curb CO2 emissions in the lead-up to next year’s Paris climate change conference.

Ebola

The Ebola outbreak in Africa and the slow response by the developed world is sure to get a mention at the G20, even if it were not initially on the formal agenda. Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, will float the idea of creating a multibillion dollar emergency fund to tackle future pandemics. Aid agencies are expected to highlight the issue with activists planning to don Ebola protective clothing at a rally near the summit on Saturday. 

 

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