| Updated at: 1523 PST, Thursday, October 28, 2010|
HANOI: Southeast Asian leaders held talks in Vietnam's capital Thursday with their region assailed by currency tensions, territorial disputes and pressure to act on Myanmar's looming elections.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit has once again been overshadowed by pariah member Myanmar which is preparing to hold polls on November 7 that have been derided as a sham.
Faced with a barrage of complaints that the vote will not be credible unless detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other opponents are freed, Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win has sought to reassure the region.
"He said they will release Aung San Suu Kyi maybe after the elections," said an official from an ASEAN delegation, who attended a dinner Wednesday where the bloc's foreign ministers tackled the issue.
However, Nyan Win "did not say specifically" what date Suu Kyi -- who has
been in detention for 15 of the last 21 years -- would be freed from house arrest, the source said.
Authorities in Myanmar have previously said that the democracy icon will be released when her current term of house arrest expires on November 13, but the military state has made no official confirmation.
The ballot is the country's first in two decades but has been discredited by the exclusion of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party humiliated the junta by inflicting a crushing defeat in the disallowed 1990 polls.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has said the vote was suffering from a "credibility deficit", said Thursday the region was anticipating an imminent release.
"Our understanding is that once the present term of her sentence has expired, once she has served her sentence, then that would be it. And that notion was not disputed," he said.
"That was the understanding that we presented (to Nyan Win) and we did not hear any disputing of that understanding."
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, who is due to meet with the ASEAN leaders on Friday, has expressed his growing "frustration" with the Myanmar junta in recent weeks.
Ban has called on the region to be more aggressive with its pariah neighbour or risk tarnishing their own democratic credentials.
The gathering of the 10-member ASEAN bloc shifts gear Saturday when it widens into the 16-nation East Asia Summit, also taking in Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Talks mooted between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan are in doubt after the two nations became embroiled in their worst diplomatic row in years, centred on a disputed East China Sea island chain.
A meeting scheduled for Friday between the economic ministers of Japan, China and South Korea has already been cancelled, casting further doubt on the two-way talks between Asia's biggest powers.
A Japanese trade ministry official blamed the cancellation on scheduling problems but Kyodo news, citing government sources, said China axed the talks due to a spat over its export restrictions on rare earth minerals.
In a parallel issue, the United States and Southeast Asian countries are concerned over China's increasingly aggressive approach to maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea, where several nations have competing territorial claims.
"We must ensure that this does not become an issue that is going to burden ASEAN, that creates the impression as if our region is afflicted by tensions, by competitions," Natalegawa said Wednesday.
The summit is also expected to sound the alarm over the "currency war" that has sent exchange rates and share prices rocketing in the region's emerging economies.
While China has kept a tight grip on the yuan, Japan and emerging Asian economies have seen their currencies soar against the US dollar, making their exports less competitive and inviting a massive inflow of foreign capital.
"These issues need to be discussed in the context of ASEAN and ASEAN+6,
where member countries could fashion a common approach to these regional
challenges," the World Bank said in a recent report.
But coming up with a regional response at the summit could prove challenging.