ASEAN centrality upheld as key to greater regional cooperation

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-7-1 14:55:23

The Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) eyes on safeguarding its centrality in regional mechanism as the 10-nation bloc is seeking closer cooperation among its member states and with dialogue partners.

A joint communique issued after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting here on Sunday emphasized the importance of reviewing the processes and institutions of the bloc to safeguard its centrality "in response to the evolving geopolitical landscape."

It also said it is looking forward to the early start of the work by a high-level task force to review the institutions and processes of ASEAN.

ASEAN foreign ministers reiterated their resolve to build an ASEAN community by 2015 at their annual meeting, while reaffirmed ASEAN's commitment to work closely with all its partners through various ASEAN led mechanisms, including the ASEAN plus One, ASEAN Plus Three, ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit.

Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Brunei's minister for foreign affairs and trade, also said he was hoping for the ASEAN ministers to "stick to the idea of ASEAN centrality."

Citing the recently started negotiations of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN and its free trade agreement partners, Sanchita Basu Das, a political researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said ASEAN should stick to its centrality so that the talks would not be ruled over by its bigger neighbors in terms of population and GDP.

She said ASEAN hopes to serve as a hub for big powers.

The 10-nation bloc, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has been pushing for closer economic ties with its neighbours, namely China, Japan and South Korea through 10+1 and the 10+3 mechanisms. More countries, including the United States and Russia, have joined in since then.

The ASEAN-led multilateral mechanism is now a major platform for regional issues, dominated by discussions such as denuclearization in Korean Peninsula, territorial disputes.

"I think the Association is now entering a new period, with growing interest from many countries," Prince Mohamed Bolkiah said. "There is also a lot of international interest in what we are doing."

Li Mingjiang, assistant professor of Nanyang Technological University, said the increase of dialogue partners will strengthen the leading role of ASEAN.

Bringing in great powers with conflicts of interest among them has in fact made ASEAN the leading player in the regional mechanism, Li said. Meanwhile, ASEAN has created norms and models that are acceptable to others.

However, Li admitted that although ASEAN sets the topics, it doesn't make final decisions on important issues, which are still decided by major powers.

The centrality of ASEAN became a subject of scrutiny after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Phnom Penh last year failed to produce a planned joint communique as the Philippines tried to force contents related to its island disputes into the document.

The Philippines released a press statement on Sunday alleging "concern over China's military buildup" in the South China Sea, despite the Southeast Asian nation and the United States staging a joint military exercise alongside the ASEAN foreign ministers meetings there.

Sanchita Basu Das said ASEAN nations "have to show the outside world that we have put our house in order" in the process of maintaining its centrality.

Speaking at the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said both sides have pushed for integration in East Asia by boosting East Asian cooperation led by ASEAN since the establishment of strategic partnership 10 years ago.

Wang told his ASEAN counterparts that China will continue to develop the cooperation with ASEAN as a regional diplomatic priority, and that a united, self-sustaining, prosperous and vigorous ASEAN accords with China's strategic interests.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

blog comments powered by Disqus