Hanoi meeting shows the "world has returned to ASEAN"

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan claimed that "ASEAN has regained its centrality" based on the outcomes of the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held in Hanoi last week. "The world has returned to ASEAN," he said.

"ASEAN and the region, and the global community have returned to the ASEAN stage in order to exchange views, and in order to consult and discuss among themselves on issues important to them, their national agenda, and their global agenda."

The ASEAN chief said the expressed interest by the US and the Russian Federation to join the East Asia Summit (EAS) had been welcomed by ASEAN foreign ministers at last weekโ€™s talks, signalling the growing capacity of the region to attract the attention and involvement of major global powers.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the meetings in Hanoi last week, and the countryโ€™s top leaders will attend as observers at the EAS in October this year.

Canada and Turkey also have expressed interest in further engagement with the ASEAN region by acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in Hanoi last week. The Third Protocol amending the TAC was also brought into force, enabling the accession of non-state regional organizations whose members are sovereign states, paving the way for the accession of the EU to the treaty in 2011.

Permanent Representative of Indonesia to ASEAN Ngurah Swajaya said ASEAN developed closer ties with the EU through its cooperation in drafting the 2008 ASEAN Charter, and has continued to build on this relationship through "sharing experiences and best practices and lessons learned".

The biannual Asia-Europe Meeting is scheduled to be held in Brussels in October this year, with focus on relations between the EU and ASEAN likely to top the agenda.

The Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea also featured prominently in discussions on regional security last week.

According to Surin Pitsuwan, "The rising tension in the peninsula is of concern to every party โ€ฆ threatening regional stability and by extension global stability".

He said it was the role of bodies such as ASEAN to provide a forum for discussion regarding tension between states to ensure that open conflict did not threaten the stability and security of the region.

Negotiations regarding the development of a Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) are still under discussion.

Indonesia suddenly finds itself caught in a sphere-of-influence battle between the US and China when the interests of the worldโ€™s two largest economies collide in the South China Sea, an area just off Indonesiaโ€™s northwest extremity.

On prospect of ASEAN full integration by 2015, Surin reaffirmed the regionโ€™s commitment to this goal, praising the economic achievements of the region to date since the introduction of the 2008 Charter despite skepticism from observers.

He pointed to the achievements of six ASEAN nations in bringing tariffs to zero, and the Cambodia laos Myanmar Vietnam (CLMV) countries gradually lowering their tariffs as a sign of progress toward greater regional integration.

The establishment of a US$700 million guarantee fund for ASEAN is also expected to promote economic growth in the region, while taking pressure off institutions such as the IMF in supporting ASEAN nations in times of crisis.

The issue of democracy and human security in Myanmar remains a difficult point on the ASEAN agenda. ASEAN ministers in Hanoi last week expressed their hope for free, fair and inclusive general elections in Myanmar later this year, and encouraged the government of Myanmar to cooperate with ASEAN and the UN in achieving this objective.

However, no plans were announced for direct ASEAN involvement in monitoring the conduct of elections in Myanmar.

Furthermore, ASEAN ministers agreed to end the humanitarian mandate in Myanmar by the end of this month, thereby eliminating any ASEAN presence by the time elections are called.


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By: Catriona Richards, The Jakarta Post
When: 7/2/2014

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