US-RI relation: History, progress and prospect

Marty M. Natalegawa, Washington, DC | Wed, 09/22/2010 10:00 AM | Opinion in the Jakarta Post

Nations today must face the fact that we live in a globalized and networked world. And that this world is in the grip of formidable challenges.

The United States and Indonesia have been addressing the need for change. It stands to reason that both will get better results — and contribute more to the welfare of humankind if we work together.

Today, the United States and Indonesia — respectively the second and the third largest democracies in the world — which means that we are both totally committed to the same values and ideals, including those enshrined in the UN Charter. Thus, the prospect for our bilateral relations are the best they have ever been.

It was in recognition of this fact that in November 2008 President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono proposed the idea of forging a Comprehensive Partnership between our two countries.

The United States quickly and favorably responded to the idea. When State Secretary Hillary Clinton visited Indonesia in February 2009, she proclaimed support for such a comprehensive partnership — covering a wide range of fields that are crucial to Indonesia’s development, including education, health, science and technology, food and energy security, national security, trade and investment and sustainability of the environment.

If I had stood before you like this some 12 years ago, I should not be talking of a Comprehensive Partnership with the United States. At that time, Indonesia had a gaping democracy deficit. In the midst of the Asian financial crisis, we suffered a negative GDP growth of 13.5 percent — and social turmoil.

But today we have a new Indonesia. We have launched and sustained an era of reformasi. Having made our democratic transition, we are conscious of the significance of being recognized as the world’s third largest democracy — with democracy, Islam and modernization can flourish together.

Our democracy is delivering socioeconomic dividends to our people. Thus when the global financial crisis struck in 2008, sending the world economy on a tailspin, the Indonesian economy grew by 6.0 percent that same year and by 4.5 percent in 2009. It is expected to grow by 5.5 percent this year and by 6.4 percent next year — the third highest growth rate among G20 countries after China and India.

Our non-oil exports were valued at US$100 billion last year. Our foreign exchange reserves have reached an unprecedented high of $78 billion, while our debt to GDP ratio went down to an unprecedented low of 27.8 percent. Our poverty rate continues to decline, our credit rating keeps rising. Agriculture being the backbone of our economy, our food security continues to strengthen.

Because our people are enjoying these dividends, our democracy is robust and durable. Our national unity is strengthened. As a nation we are more socially cohesive than ever before.

We have transparency in government. The democratic checks and balances of power are always at work. Our justice system has scored many notable victories against the vice of corruption. But we are not complacent. We have to continue to invest in and nurture our democratic institutions.

Not least, we are striving to ensure that there is no disconnect between our democratization and the regional milieu. It is certainly not a coincidence that Indonesia’s democratic transformation over the past decade has been paralleled by change within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Thus in the same way that we have a democratic Indonesia, we have an ASEAN that is transforming itself by its commitment to democratic values.

As Indonesia consolidates within, and contributes to ASEAN community-building, it is also promoting its world view on the so-called regional architecture building.

A geopolitical shift to the Asia-Pacific region has been quite pronounced and likely to continue.

Indonesia believes that the Asia-Pacific region need not slip into a Cold War-type environment of mutual suspicion and hostility. In this, ASEAN’s role will continue to be invaluable.

Today, ASEAN continues to strive to earn such central role by tackling head on the issue of regional architecture building. The forthcoming expansion of the East Asia Summit by including the United States and the Russian Federation is one such response.

Indonesia looks forward to working closely with the United States within the framework of the envisaged Comprehensive Partnership to help bring about such a regional architecture. Beyond the Asia-Pacific region, we look forward to collaborating with the United States in the reform of the United Nations that reflects the realities of the contemporary world.

Within the framework of G20 we will strive alongside the United States to reform the international financial architecture and give the developing world a bigger say in global economic-decision making.

We can pursue a common advocacy for nuclear disarmament that will eventually lead to a world of zero nuclear weapons. And a common advocacy to save our tropical forests, our oceans and coral reefs — to mitigate and control the ravages of global warming.

We invite the United States to support our efforts at promoting democratic values through such endeavors as the Bali Democracy Forum. We are ready to work with the United States in fostering peace and mutual understanding wherever there is conflict or tension.

And we invite the United States to join our ongoing efforts to promote interfaith and dialogue among civilizations — as a way of building a bridge of mutual understanding and cooperation between the Western and Muslim world.

There is so much that we can do with this Comprehensive Partnership. The success of that comprehensive partnership will tell a great deal not just about the United States and Indonesia, not just about the West and about Islam but also about democracy and how it can be made fruitful for all humankind.

The article is an excerpt of keynote speech by Foreign Minister Marty M. Natalegawa at the Banyan Tree Leadership Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC on Sept. 17, 2010.

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Can ASEAN be a peace mediator?

Agus Wandi, Jakarta | Fri, 08/13/2010 9:19 AM | Opinion in the Jakarta Post

An international peace mediation workshop was recently organized by the European Commission (EC) and the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) in Jakarta to promote cooperation between ASEAN and the European Union (EU) on conflict mediation and prevention in the region.

Among the key questions that emerged was how to promote ASEAN as an effective vehicle for peace mediation. The EU has been responsible for a number of initiatives to strengthen its mediation and dialogue capacities in this field, and ASEAN is now taking steps to model itself on best practices from other regions in order to develop itself as a leader in peace building.

Unlike some skeptics, I believe ASEAN has the potential to become an effective regional body for crisis mediation and prevention. ASEAN has already begun developing programs to promote peace in the region in “its own way”.

The ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) blueprint provides a number of recommendations for conflict management put forward by the institution. The blue print envisages three pillars. Among them is a cohesive, peaceful, stable and resilient region with shared responsibility for a comprehensive state of security.

The blueprint outlines ASEAN’s commitment to conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and post-conflict building. It also provides an action plan to achieve targets in these areas through research, cooperation and development of an institutional framework to deal with regional conflict and security issues.

Outside this blueprint, in the last few years, ASEAN has also engaged in conflict resolution issues. As a regional entity, ASEAN worked with the EU to monitor the implementation of the MoU under the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM). While ASEAN plays a minor role in the AMM, it could be the start of its deeper involvement in the future.

It is now time for ASEAN to walk the walk. There is a challenge for the regional body to solve its own dilemma. On the one hand, the region has indicated it would like to participate in initiatives to promote conflict prevention in the region, to add another sphere of influence for the region as it emerges as a strong economic player on the international stage.

On the other hand, the desire for peace is constrained by both its internal framework, which protects the sovereign rights of its members from external interference, and its reluctance on the regional level to open itself to third-party involvement, especially from non-ASEAN countries.

In reality, most conflicts in the region would benefit from the experience and expertise that third parties from other conflict areas could provide in building trust between governments or mediating peace talks.

Indonesia and the Philippines have engaged teams of conflict resolution experts in developing the strategic frameworks for ending conflicts in their countries, and building toward stable peace. The benefits of working together with experienced actors outside the region could enrich ASEAN countries.

In the case of the peace process in Aceh, many feared that external mediation would bolster the separatist movement. However, this was by no means the case. Peace was achieved, the province did not become politically diffused, and economic development has become the focus for long-lasting peace.

Aceh has a long way to go to prove the success of the special autonomy status it was granted by the central government; and the success of the peace process was strongly affected by aid entering the region following the 2004 tsunami. Regardless, the process in Aceh illustrates how third party involvement, through mediation and assistance, can be important in supporting the attainment of a wider peace.

ASEAN needs to learn from this experience on a regional level. The AMM is a successful example of the first partnership ASEAN has undertaken with a regional counterpart to address conflict in one of its member states: In this case, with the EU.

Because of the general resistance in the region in regards to outside “meddling” in state and regional affairs, ASEAN would be best served by developing its own institutions for conflict mediation and conflict prevention. Strengthening the capacity and scope of peace building mediators already working in ASEAN countries should be explored and promoted.

An interesting recommendation put forward in the blueprint is the establishment of an ASEAN center for peace and reconciliation. This center could focus on research about social crises in the region, and provide recommendations for peace building activities and internal mechanisms for managing and preventing conflict.

ASEAN civil society should also be involved in conflict prevention initiatives in the region. Many civil society groups have more extensive experience in this field than their governments, and have built strong networks among themselves. Bringing civil society groups on board and learning from their experience is crucial, as the identity of an ASEAN peace building agency is being formed. The wisdom of a handful of respected actors in countries across the region who have worked on peace mediation needs to be harnessed and replicated.

The key is for ASEAN to continue exploring what role it can best play to contribute to peace in the region. The ASEAN blueprint is a good start, but further action is crucial.

The writer is director of the IDCC (International Development and Crisis Consultants) and a post-conflict consultant.

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ASEAN and contemporary US diplomacy in East Asia

Evi Fitriani, Jakarta | Fri, 08/13/2010 9:09 AM | Opinion

Despite US President Barack Obama twice postponing his visit to Indonesia, there has been a marked increase in high-ranked US officials reaching out to Southeast Asia.

The most prominent being the visit by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Jakarta to discuss the future of US-Indonesian military cooperation and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presence at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi last month.

China’s economic growth and its ability to capitalize its economic strength to political-strategic influence in the region and global diplomacy has irritated the US. The world’s sole superpower now depends on Chinese investment to secure its economy.

The US does not only suffer continuous trade deficits against China, but also has to finance its budget on government bonds, much of which have been bought by China.

Clinton flew to China soon after the collapse of American financial market in 2009 to assure the Chinese government that China’s capital is safe in US hands. There is a global shift in power. The US may still be the strongest military power in the world but it needs strong economic support.

In contrast, with high economic growth and around US$2.45 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the biggest in the world, China can afford to build a very modern military, including a blue-ocean navy that may project its leverage in the Pacific and beyond.

On top of this hard power, China’s business interests have expanded into Africa and Latin America. With a very close link between politics and business in China and the centralized political system controlled by the Chinese authority, economic tools can be used to pursue political-strategic interests, and vice versa.

China has used its economic strength as a powerful tool in international relations which, in turn, may threaten US interests in Asia and around the globe.

In short, China’s economic strength and political-strategic influence have made the US more vulnerable domestically and abroad.

The US’ current outreach to countries in Southeast Asia is to balance China’s influence and mitigate its vulnerability.

America’s traditional ally in Asia, Japan, seems unable to play a significant role in balancing China in Asia due to its domestic political and economic problems.

Japan’s continuing struggle to reform its economic and political systems have taken a toll in the country’s diplomacy and limited its foreign policy. The US can’t rely on Japan to secure US interests in Asia.

Consequently, the US has actively approached ASEAN countries and insisted on joining the East Asian Summit (EAS). While the intensity may be different, all of the 10 members of the ASEAN have had their own historical engagements with the US.

The establishment of ASEAN in 1967 has been widely perceived as one part of the US’ strategy to contain communism in the region during 1960s.

Perhaps, ASEAN is the only realistic choice for the US to pursue its interests in Asia. While it has been criticized for being too weak institutionally and too compromising politically, ASEAN is the world’s longest running geo-political organization after the EU.

ASEAN countries have not only maintained the longevity of their regional institution beyond the Cold War, but expanded the institution’s membership to include almost all countries in Southeast Asia.

In addition, despite the emergence of various regional institutions in the region, ASEAN has developed as the core of Asian regional architecture since 1990s.

While there are frequent questions about ASEAN’s institutional capability to handle regional affairs and crises, ASEAN countries seem to occupy the driver’s seat in Asian regional forums.

Nevertheless, ASEAN’s important position in the regional architecture means the organization’s leaders should not overlook challenges in regard to the US’ revitalized presence in Asia and its accession to the EAS.

History teaches us that the reasons behind the absence of solid Asian regionalism and identity derive not only from domestic problems and inter-state distrust among Asian countries, but also from the presence of external powers like the US in the region.

While traditional US strategy in East Asia is to oppose any single notion of domination, ASEAN should not let the Americans re-establish their own domination in the region.

ASEAN should be able to become the host in Asia and determine the course of Asian regional architecture based on reciprocal respect and mutual benefits between countries and external actors.

Despite the need to use acceptable diplomatic language, ASEAN countries have to be able to safeguard the region’s interests vis-à-vis external actors.

ASEAN countries need to balance China’s influence in the region too. The strategy looks to be to include Japan and Australia in the EAS. With the accession of the US, ASEAN should have more room to maneuver in dealing with China.

The revitalization of US presence in the region can be used to increase Southeast Asian countries’ bargaining power against China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. At the ASEAN Regional Forum last week, we saw antagonism between the US and China in handling the Spratly Islands conflict.
Nevertheless, ASEAN should not become the victim of the US – China competition in the region.

ASEAN countries should increase their institutional capability and build inter-state trust in order to become a smart mediator that can deal with external actors without sacrificing their own interests.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the International relations Department, University of Indonesia (Jakarta), and a PhD candidate in the Australian National University (Australia).

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Chairman’s Statement of the 11th ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

1. The 11th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea was held in Ha Noi on 21 July 2010. The Meeting was chaired by H.E. Dr. Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

2. The Ministers noted with pleasure the significant progress achieved so far in ASEAN Plus Three cooperation and in the implementation of the 2nd Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation and the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Work Plan (2007-2017). They stressed the need for further strengthening policy coordination and sustaining economic growth in the region.

3. The Ministers noted with appreciation the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Sustained Recovery and Development issued at the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on 9 April 2010, ASEAN’s initiative to develop a Master Plan on ASEAN connectivity, and ASEAN’s continuous effort to explore effective financing instruments and policies, including a possible ASEAN Infrastructure Development Fund, which would contribute to developing East Asia into a region of enhanced connectivity and dynamic growth.

4. The Ministers noted with satisfaction recent developments in the ASEAN Plus Three financial cooperation. They welcomed the realisation of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) on 24 March 2010 and noted the on-going preparation for the ASEAN Plus Three Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO). They also welcomed the agreement of the 13th ASEAN Plus Three Finance Ministers’ Meeting on 2 May 2010 to endorse the establishment of ASEAN Plus Three Bond Market Forum (ABMF) and the Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility (CGIF) and hoped for the CGIF’s operationalisation before the end of 2010.

5. The Ministers welcomed the contribution of US$ 3 million by the ASEAN Plus Three countries in the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Fund (APTCF) and looked forward to the increasing number of projects to be proposed by the ASEAN Plus Three countries for funding by the APTCF.

6. The Ministers recognised the rapidly expanding ASEAN Plus Three economic cooperation activities, particularly the realisation of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) on 17 May 2010, the establishment of ASEAN-China Free Trade Area on 1 January 2010 and other efforts to liberalize trade among ASEAN Plus Three countries, including studies on the East Asia Free Trade Area (EAFTA) and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia (CEPEA).

7. The Ministers were pleased at the achievements recorded in ASEAN Plus Three cooperation on other areas, particularly labour, culture and arts, tourism. They noted that two new areas, namely, information and education, have been added to ASEAN Plus Three cooperation. They welcomed the Inaugural Meeting of the ASEAN Plus Three Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI+3) on 6 November 2009 in Vientiane, Lao PDR which explored ways and discussed mechanisms of ASEAN Plus Three cooperation in information .

8. They also appreciated Thailand’s efforts to initiate the ASEAN Plus Three cooperation on education and looked forward to the convening of the 1st ASEAN Plus Three Senior Officials’ Meeting on Education (SOM-ED+3) in November 2010 in Thailand to consider a draft ASEAN Plus Three Plan of Action on Education.

9. The Ministers reaffirmed the importance of ensuring food and energy security in the region. In this regard, they welcomed the efforts to create the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) as a permanent mechanism to ensure food security in the region and the intention to develop a comprehensive strategy on sustainable and integrated food and bio-fuels production and consumption.

10. The Ministers expressed their commitment to work closely together towards a positive outcome at COP-16/CMP-6 to be held in Mexico in December 2010. In this regard, they welcomed the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Joint Response to Climate Change on 9 April 2010 as well as Viet Nam’s initiative to convene an East Asia Forum on Climate Change. They encouraged enhanced regional and sub-regional cooperation including in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

11. The Ministers reaffirmed the need to strengthen cooperation in addressing threats of disease outbreaks and were satisfied with the successful completion of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Programme Phase II and looked forward to the commencement of the next phase of cooperation with active participation of ASEAN Plus Three countries. The Ministers welcomed ASEAN’s efforts to develop an ASEAN Roadmap on Control of Avian Influenza to ensure the attainment of HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza)-free ASEAN by 2020.

12. The Ministers noted new proposals for cooperation in the ASEAN Plus Three framework which, among others, includes cooperation in food safety and standards, water management, deforestation prevention and reforestation, disaster management, including the “ASEAN Plus Three International Conference on Disaster Management” to be held in August 2010 in Tokyo.

13. The Ministers reaffirmed that the ASEAN Plus Three process would continue as one of the main vehicles towards the long-term goal of building an East Asian community with ASEAN as the driving force. At the same time, the Ministers reaffirmed their support for ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture and recognised the mutually reinforcing and complementary roles of the ASEAN Plus Three process and such regional fora as EAS, ARF and APEC to promote East Asian community building.

14. On regional and international issues of common concern, the Ministers noted that despite downside risks to the global recovery from an unprecedented international financial crisis, the East Asian economies are among the first to rebound soundly, and have become one of the key drivers of the global economic recovery. They reiterated the commitment to accelerating and deepening economic structural reforms, promoting domestic demand and employment, resisting protectionism and further promoting trade and investment for the recovery and long-term prosperity of the world economy.

15. The Ministers recognised the importance of issues discussed in the G-20 process in pursuit of strong, sustainable and balanced growth. In this regard, they welcomed the chairmanship of the Republic of Korea in the G-20 Summit in Seoul this November and reiterated their support for the ASEAN Chairman to participate at the forthcoming Seoul G-20 Summit and for the continued participation of the ASEAN Chairman in the future G-20 Summits on regular basis.

16. The Ministers deplored the sinking of the Cheonan ship of the Republic of Korea on 26 March 2010, resulting in the tragic loss of lives. They extended their deep sympathy and condolences to the people and Government of the ROK and welcomed the restraint shown by the ROK. In this connection, they expressed support for the 9 July 2010 United Nations Security Council Presidential Statement, which included the Council’s condemnation of the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan ship.

17. The Ministers stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, and called on the concerned parties to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. They reaffirmed their support for the complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and encouraged the parties to return to the Six Party Talks in due course. They stressed the need to fully implement the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. They also emphasised the importance of addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community.

18. The Ministers looked forward to their next meeting in Indonesia in 2011.

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Post Ministerial Conferences between ASEAN and Dialogue Partners (PMCs+1)

ASEAN today hold a series of Post Ministerial Conferences in Ha Noi with 10 Dialogue Partners, namely China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, EU, the US and Canada. These meetings serve as crucial preparatory steps for the upcoming Related Summits between ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners in the second half of the year. As usual practice, at these Meetings, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers and their counterparts reviewed relationships in the past year and set forth ways and means to promote future cooperation. The main Agendas of these Meetings include:

1. Strengthening effective, substantive and comprehensive cooperation between ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners: from assistance to ASEAN in realising its community-building goal and promoting connectivity to addressing the emerging challenges such as climate change, natural disasters, epidemics, maritime security… At these Meetings, ASEAN adopted Plans of Action in the new period with some Dialogue Partners namely India, Canada and New Zealand.

2. Preparing for the important Related Summits which shall be held at the end of the year, including the annual Summits between ASEAN and China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and India as well as those special Summits with Russia, the US, the United Nations, Australia and New Zealand. The Ministers agreed in principle on the agenda, priorities and documents for these Summits.

3. Exchanging views on strengthening regional cooperation, including the possibility of wider participation and deeper engagement of Dialogue Partners in the process of shaping the regional architecture. The Dialogue Partners reaffirmed their support for ASEAN’s central role in the region and shared ASEAN’s common vision of a future regional architecture that will be multi-level, mutually-supportive, and being built upon existing mechanisms.

ASEAN welcomed Russia and the U.S’s expressed interest in engaging deeper with the evolving regional architecture, including the participation in the EAS as members, with appropriate arrangement and timing.

Following are the salient features of these Meetings:

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with China

The Meeting was chaired by H.E Dr. Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, as Country Coordinator of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. On future direction for cooperation, ASEAN and China agreed to: i) hasten the drafting of a new Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity for the period of 2011-2015 to be submitted to the 13th ASEAN-China Summit for adoption.; ii) realize the initiatives for ASEAN-China cooperation, including infrastructure, energy, ICT... as well as the use of China-assisted funds namely the China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund worth US$ 10 billion and the Credit Fund for Commercial Exchange of US$ 15 billion; iii) enhancing cooperation for peace, stability and prosperity in the region, including cooperation within the framework of ASEAN+3, EAS, ARF and in implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC); iv) recommend the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations throughout the year of 2011.

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with Russia

The Ministers welcomed good progress in implementing the ASEAN - Russia Comprehensive Program of Action to Promote Cooperation for 2005-2015; discussed preparations for the 2nd ASEAN-Russia Summit hat will be held later in the year, including recommendation for a draft Statement, convening of the Russia-ASEAN Business Forum; the ASEAN-Russia Cultural Cooperation Agreement; discussed and agreed on specific activities in preparations for the Commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Relations, including the holding of Days of Russian Culture in ASEAN Member Countries.

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with the United States of America

To further implement the decisions of the 1st ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting in 2009 and prepare for the 2nd ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting in 2010, the two sides agreed to finalise a Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-US Partnership for the new period of 2011-2015; strengthening cooperation in areas of mutual interest, particularly economic, trade and investment cooperation, science and technology, education as well as in addressing emerging challenges like epidemics, energy security, disaster management, climate change… ASEAN welcomed the establishment of a US Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta. ASEAN and the US agreed to work closely toward the convening of the 2nd ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting to be held later in the year.

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with Japan

ASEAN welcomed Japan’s proposal to further promote the cooperation between ASEAN and Japan toward economic growth through enhancing ASEAN connectivity within the framework of “ASEAN-Japan Partnership for New Growth in Asia”. Japan reaffirmed its continued support to ASEAN Community building efforts, including narrowing development gap through contribution to the ASEAN-Japan Integration Fund; and offered to provide 800 million Yen assisting the implementation of the Master plan on ASEAN Connectivity. ASEAN and Japan committed for the early entry into force and effective implementation of the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP).

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Meeting with Republic of Korea(ROK)

ASEAN and the ROK agreed to work closely for the effective implementation of ASEAN-ROK FTA agreement with a view to increasing two-way trade volume to US$ 150 billion by 2015. The Ministers agreed to submit the proposal to elevate the ASEAN-ROK Dialogue Relations to Strategic Partnership, and a draft Joint Declaration on ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership to the Leaders at the forthcoming ASEAN-ROK Summit in Ha Noi later this year.

ASEAN expressed its appreciation to the ROK for inviting Viet Nam, as the Chair of ASEAN, to attend the G-20 Summit in Seoul this November. On this occasion, ASEAN extended deep sympathy and condolences to the Government and people of the ROK for the loss of lives resulting from the sinking of the Cheonan ship; called on all parties concerned to exercise utmost self-restraint and resolve all differences by peaceful means.

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with India

The two sides adopted the Plan of Action to implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Prosperity for 2010-2015; agreed to strengthen cooperation in trade-economics, science and technology, ICT, environment as well as in response to challenges like terrorism, trans national crimes. The Ministers tasked their officials to initiate projects to be sponsored under the ASEAN-India Green Fund and the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Development Fund. The two sides discussed preparations for the 20th Anniversary of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Relationship in 2012.

ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with Australia

The two sides emphasized on the significance and importance of effectively implementing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA) which entered into force early this year; agreed to accelerate the implementation of the Plan of Action to realise the ASEAN-Australia Enhanced Partnership with focus on areas of education, trade and investment, transport, sustainable use of resources, disaster management, culture, people-to-people exchange etc. ASEAN and Australia agreed to convene an ASEAN-Australia Summit on the sideline of the 17th ASEAN Summit in the second half of 2010 to give strong impetus to the Dialogue relations.

ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with New Zealand

The Ministers adopted the ASEAN-New Zealand Joint Declaration on Enhanced Partnership for 2010-2015; focusing on cooperation in education, culture and people-to-people exchange. ASEAN welcomed New Zealand’s new proposals for cooperation, including a $ 54 million support for ASEAN students to be trained in New Zealand in the next 3 years. The two sides appreciated the significance and importance of effectively carrying out the AANZFTA which entered into force at the begining of this year. ASEAN and New Zealand agreed to convene the ASEAN-New Zealand Commemorative Summit back-to-back with the 17th ASEAN Summit in Ha Noi.

ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with Canada

The Ministers adopted the Plan of Action to implement the Declaration on ASEAN-Canada Enhanced Partnership for 2011-2015; agreed to work toward an ASEAN-Canada Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to enhance trade and investment relations. ASEAN welcomed Canada’s signing of the Instrument of Accession to the TAC, which marks another significant progress in the Dialogue relationship, as well as Canada’s commitment to peace, stability and cooperation in the region.

At the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference with the EU

ASEAN and the EU agreed to promote the implementation of programmes and activities to realise the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership; especially boosting region-to-region economic cooperation.

ASEAN appreciated EU’s determination to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and informed the EU of the signing of the 3rd Protocol amending the TAC to be held on 23 July which would pave the way for the EU’s accession to the TAC at an early stage.

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The 17th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

Ha Noi, 23 July 2010

The 17th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the last Ministerial Meeting within the framework of the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Related Meetings took place today in Ha Noi, on 23 July, under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, H.E Dr. Pham Gia Khiem. The Meeting, comprising of a Retreat session and a Plenary session, was attended by Foreign Ministers and Representatives of Foreign Ministers and Heads of Delegations of 27 ARF participants. Earlier, the ASEAN Regional Forum Defence Officials’ Dialogue (DOD) was held on 22 July in Ha Noi.

As usual practice of the Forum, the Ministers exchanged views on international and regional issues of common interest, reviewed the process of cooperation in the past year and mapped out future direction of the Forum for the years to come.

The Ministers emphasized that peace, stability and cooperation for development remain the shared goal and aspiration of countries in the region. They reiterated commitment to work closely toward that end. They welcomed the positive developments in ASEAN’s Community building and regional integration, especially the important decisions made at the last 16th ASEAN Summit. The ARF Participants reiterated their support for ASEAN to continue playing an important role in promoting cooperation and dialogue for confidence building in the region; stressing the importance of bringing into full play ASEAN’s established mechanisms and instruments for peace and regional stability, namely the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ), Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Sharing views on the shaping of the regional architecture, the ARF Participants expressed their support for ASEAN’s centrality; welcomed ASEAN’s efforts in encouraging and promoting deeper engagement of Dialogue Partners with the regional cooperation process, including the participation of Russia and the US in the EAS with appropriate times and arrangements. The Ministers hailed the convening of the first ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Plus with Eight Dialogue Partners in 2010 which underscored the importance of the envisaged ADMM Plus complementing the work of the ARF.

On regional situation, the Ministers expressed deep concern over the sinking of the Republic of Korea’s naval ship, the Cheonan, on 26 March 2010; extended condolences to the Government of the Republic of Korea for the loss of lives in the incident; called on all concerned parties to exercise self-restraint and resolve all disputes by peaceful means. They also encouraged the parties to return to the Six-party talks with a view to achieving the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula for its lasting peace and stability.

The Ministers were briefed by Myanmar on recent political developments in the country, including the progress made in the implementation of the Roadmap for Democracy, especially preparations for the general upcoming election. The Ministers reiterated the importance of holding the general election in a free, fair, and inclusive manner which would lay the foundation for the long term stability and development of Myanmar. The Participants reaffirmed their commitment to remain constructively engaged with Myanmar. The Ministers also extended their support to Myanmar to work with ASEAN and the United Nations in the process of national reconciliation as well as the economic and social development of Myanmar.

The Ministers stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in the South China Sea; reaffirmed their support for the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), towards the eventual conclusion of a Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) in the future. They called on strengthening dialogue, promoting confidence building among concerned parties, as well as resolving disputes by peaceful means in conformity with the spirit of the DOC and recognised principles of international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

On future direction of the ARF process, the Ministers reaffirmed that ARF remains the key forum to discuss political and security issues in the region with ASEAN as the driving force, while continuing to be one of the pivotal elements in an evolving regional architecture. The Ministers emphasized the need for ARF to maintain its relevance and become more action-oriented in addressing multi-dimensional challenges, especially the non-traditional security threats that have the direct impact on peace and security in the region such as climate change, disaster, maritime security etc.

In particular, the ARF Participants agreed and adopted the Ha Noi Plan of Action to Implement the ARF Vision Statement, which, among others, contains policy guidance for the ARF to develop and implement concrete and practical actions toward the year 2020.

The Ministers adopted also the List of 17 activities for the next inter-sessional year 2010-2011. All ARF Participants agreed on the need to further promoting cooperation towards preventive diplomacy alongside the conduct of confidence building measures; better improving modalities and strengthening effective ARF’s activities; increasing coordination in sharing information and enhancing policy transparency, cooperating in dealing with non-traditional security challenges; intensifying linkages between Track I and Track II as well as encouraging deeper participation of senior defence officials in this Forum. Accordingly, the Ministers agreed to:

- Adopt the ARF Annual Security Outlook Standardised Format (ASO); task senior officials to draft and finalise the ARF Work Plans on Preventive Diplomacy; Work Plan on Disaster Relief; Work Plan on Counter Terrorism-Transnational Crime and Work Plan on Maritime Security; task senior officials and the ASEAN Secretariat to work on possible ways to strengthen the ARF Unit as part of the ASEAN Secretariat.

On the conclusion 17th ASEAN Regional Forum, the Chair of the Meeting issued a Chairman’s Statement and outcomes of the Forum.
On the same day, ASEAN Foreign Ministers and their counterparts witnessed the Signing Ceremony of the Instrument of Accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) by Canada and Turkey; and signed with the TAC High Contracting Parties the Third Protocol amending TAC to allow for the accession of EU to the Treaty.

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Is ASEAN biting off more than it can chew?

Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation (Thailand)Publication Date : 05-04-2010

Judging from the number of countries that want to accede to Asean's 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), one can easily conclude that the 43-year-old grouping is gaining political clout in the international community. Altogether 27 countries, including the United States, have signed on to the regional code of conduct, which denounces the use of force and any attempt to interfere with domestic politics.

More countries are on the waiting list. Canada, the last Asean dialogue partner that has yet to sign the TAC, has recently begun negotiations with Asean for possible accession by the end of this year.

The European Union signed the protocol for TAC accession last year pending the ratification of the Third Protocol by all signatories. This instrument permits international organisations whose members are only sovereign states to join. Within the Asean inner circle, it is an open secret that the ratification process will take months, if not years, to complete.

The First Protocol in 1987 enabled Papua New Guinea, the first country outside Southeast Asia, to sign the TAC, followed by the Second Protocol in 1988 that has opened the present floodgate for major powers to accede. Under the protocol, only the Asean High Contracting Parties can identify and consent to the accession of those non-Southeast Asian countries.

Last year, Asean made a U-turn after agreeing to include Turkey in the TAC community. Indonesia strongly opposed Ankara's diplomatic move at this juncture, fearing the negative consequences that could impact on Asean as a whole.

Turkey's signing on, if it went as planned last year, would allow Ankara the right to block the EU's accession to the TAC, as it would be a party to the Third Protocol. Deep down, Indonesia fears that Turkey might use the TAC to increase its bargaining power for the latter's effort to join the EU, which has hit a snag.

Is Asean biting off more than it can chew? Obviously, that is the general sentiment prevailing at all echelons of Asean officialdom, even though they would never admit it. At the Asean Summit in Hanoi this Thursday and Friday, Asean leaders will approve guidelines for the TAC that will put the brakes on TAC accession.

One of the key elements is the principle of a "flexible moratorium" placed on future membership. Truth be told, if the EU and Canada joined the TAC, that would leave Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal as the only remaining countries not on board the regional code of conduct.

Asean needs to contemplate now on the TAC's future and relevance. As signatories increase, Asean is gradually losing control. Turkey's accession was a case in point.

At the same time, granted the increased global connectivity and shared universal values, norms and standards, several principles in the TAC could be the subject of further discussion and reviews. Otherwise, the 34-year-old regional code of conduct could be a stumbling bloc for Asean's desire to promote its global role in economic or financial, political or security as well as socio-cultural matters.

Furthermore, just look at the dilemma confronting the current Asean chair, Vietnam, in handling the engagement between the Asean leaders and the representatives of civil-society organisations (CSOs). Despite the positive pledge made last February at the 14th Asean summit in Cha-am by the Vietnamese leader, President Nguyen Minh Triet, who welcomed the idea of putting the interface into the Asean framework, the host eventually decided last month at the senior official meeting in Ho Chi Minh City to put on hold the whole experiment with CSOs.

The interface, which was held twice when Thailand was the chair, revealed the lack of trust on both sides. The CSO representatives viewed the Asean leaders as dictators wanting to suppress their people's role and voices, while the leaders thought the non-governmental stakeholders were troublemakers and wanted to embarrass them. Over half of the Asean leaders did not attend the second interface in October.

It is interesting to note that the host has scheduled a meeting between the Asean leaders and the representatives of the Asean Inter-parliamentary Organisation, one of the estimated 200 non-governmental organisations recognised by Asean, ahead of the opening ceremony. As such, the Vietnamese-style "interface" between both sides at the summit would be an informal gathering for 15 minutes, as it is not placed in between the opening and closing ceremonies.

Indeed, Vietnam has rather active community-based organisations as well as professional groups that could contribute to the ongoing process of transforming Asean into a people-centred grouping.

With the proper encouragement of other new members such as Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam could have proceeded in that direction. Earlier discussions among representatives of Asean-based civil-society groups and Vietnam's counterparts yielded encouraging results. Unfortunately, they had no influence on the decision-making.

Furthermore, Asean as a whole has failed to respect the voices of the CSOs and the grass roots. During the inaugural meeting of the Asean Intergovern-mental Commission for Human Rights in Jakarta last week, Asean civil groups were unable to present cases of human-rights violations to the commission. The voices from civil-society groups sounded at times loud and fierce but the AICHR must find ways to take up these issues in the future, as they are real and matters of urgency.

For instance, victims comprising wives and relatives of the Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines as well as those senior citizens who suffered from the past impunity in Indonesia were at the Asean Secretariat to present their cases.

It could have been a better start for the AICHR. Last week's failure has already discredited the AICHR, which is the principle organisation promoting and protecting human rights in Asean. Certainly, the AICHR has a limited mandate, but rejecting appeals directly from the victims is deplorable.

The AICHR plans to complete the terms of procedure for approval by the Asean foreign ministers in July. It is imperative that the AICHR takes into consideration the CSOs' views and contributions. Obviously, some of their recommendations could be too progressive, but there are practical elements as well. As a rule-based organisation, Asean would become irrelevant if its members continued to ignore the people's voices and outcries over injustice.

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Is China failing SE Asia’s test?

With all the bombast surrounding the 60th anniversary of China-Indonesia relations in the last few months, many seem unaware of recent developments in the South China Sea. In the last fortnight, details have emerged regarding the Chinese Navy’s growing assertiveness and naval projection capability in the region.

According to a recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a flotilla of six ships from the North Sea Fleet sailed on March 18 on a “long-distance training exercise” in the vicinity of the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands — and reportedly near the Malacca Strait as well.

In mid-April, the Japanese media reported a second taskforce of at least 10 ships from the East Sea fleet (including destroyers and frigates) sailed through the Miyako strait, stopped east of Taiwan,
and conducted anti-submarine warfare exercises.

The group apparently stopped when Vietnamese fishermen surrounding Chinese fishing patrols in the South China Sea — which they might have been sent to rescue — withdrew from the area.

The North Sea Fleet Commander was quoted saying that “China needed to protect its maritime territorial integrity through long-distance naval projection.”

These developments signify China’s growing naval capability — and its intention of possibly using them in territorial disputes. After all, studies have shown that while Chinese leaders clearly view China as a defensive power, Beijing has been willing to use “calibrated force” in the past, especially when it comes to territorial disputes.

It should be noted however, China resolved most of its border issues peacefully (17 out of 23 disputes since 1949) — which Chinese leaders believe is necessary in order to focus on economic development and to show the world that they could be a responsible world leader.

Although, given the current complexities surrounding China’s defense policy-making, it remains difficult to fully assess under what conditions would China today use force to defend what it sees as its “undisputed sovereignty”.

The March and April training exercise also demonstrate the Navy’s ability to organize and conduct distant operations with multiple platforms and the growing integrative capabilities of its three fleets.

This allowed the Navy for the first time to move beyond the “First Island Chain” (a term used to describe the line formed by the Aleutians, the Kuriles, Japan, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo) — which will have huge strategic ramifications for the regional balance of power in the coming years.

Regional expert Michael Auslin argued that this is part of China’s new “far sea defense” strategy — a departure from its traditional “Offshore Defense” — that may signal its intention to play “an expanded role in the region”.

China’s decision in December 2008 to join the international anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, its Navy’s continued expansion, and the 2009 USS Impeccable incident, seem to add further weight to this argument.

It would be difficult therefore for Southeast Asian countries to positively welcome China’s growing naval assertiveness. Especially with the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area already causing domestic discontents within some member states.

Thus, while the growing economic interdependence between ASEAN and China has been a positive force in dissuading regional fears — which Beijing’s diplomatic “charm offensive” also helped facilitate — the ultimate litmus test of China-Southeast Asia’s mature relations lies in the South China Sea.

This decades-old dispute (involving Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and China) is critical not just over sovereignty, but it also entangles marine and energy resources with the geo-strategic significance of the waterways controlling the Sea Lanes of Communication between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

For Indonesia, the waters surrounding the Natuna islands are also at stake here.

Given these interests, it would be counter-productive for any disputant country to use, or threaten to use, military force to resolve the dispute.

However, as the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was not legally binding, and existing mechanisms of dialogue avoid “tough questions”, the strategic trust between Southeast Asia and China is resting on shaky grounds.

For one thing, China’s rapid naval modernization, its aggressive and seemingly insatiable drive for energy sources, and its seemingly tough stance when it comes territorial disputes, makes it harder to dissuade regional fears in the long run.

For another, the political and economic gap within Southeast Asia, and the differing strategic interests of its key member states in handling China, has made it hard for ASEAN to present a unified front in assisting its member states to deal with the South China Sea dispute.

More importantly however, Southeast Asian countries need to understand China’s fear that compromising on the South China Sea may send the wrong signal to Taiwan and Tibet, while its growing energy demands and huge dependence on the Malacca Strait necessitates the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to consider military options to secure them.

China on the other hand also needs to understand why using military force in any fashion cannot
be peacefully understood by Southeast Asia.

And why diplomatic and economic “charm offensive” alone will not suffice to sustain long-term strategic trust in a growing region where nationalism and sovereignty remains a political trump card.

This of course is easier said than done. But avoiding the tough questions simply means postponing the inevitable.

The writer is a researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, and currently an ASC fellow at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

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Bring the diplomats in, send the warriors out

by Bantarto Bandoro Source: The Jakarta Post
In a vote of 14-0, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved Resolution 1860 calling for an immediate cease-fire to the Gaza conflict. The United States abstained from voting, presumably

because the resolution didn't affect its current position very much.

The cease-fire resolution, drafted by Britain and backed by the United States and France - all veto-wielding members of the UNSC - with amendments by key Arab negotiators including the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Qatar, came out after nearly a week of intensive diplomatic moves by the international community to de-escalate, if not to end, the Gaza crisis which has claimed more than 800 Palestinian lives.

From a moral perspective, it is in the interest of all to see the war end soon. But many question the resolution's practicality as the warring parties continue to resist because the resolution does not represent - and even undermines - their interests.

A student of mine asked whether there is a difference between the 2006 Israeli bombardment of Southern Lebanon and the current war in Gaza.

My answer is partly no. In both cases the wars have dragged world diplomats to the UNSC to issue cease-fire resolutions.

Both cases have also showed the extent to which the prospects for a Middle East deal seem minuscule. But there is a way out, and both sides know what they must do. This is where the strategic role of the diplomats enters the picture.

Israel and Hamas have justified their military actions on the basis of self-defense. Most sadly and internationally condemned, however, is that the Israelis' actions have claimed the lives of many innocent Palestinian civilians. This has led the international community to launch a massive protest.

Ways to end the fighting include a long-term political solution, the deployment of international forces and an initial cease-fire. At the diplomatic level, countries inside as well as outside the Middle East region seem to be in agreement that the war in Gaza should end.

The post-UNSC Resolution 1860 will eventually see whether the diplomats will be able to significantly influence theto adhere to the initial cease-fire resolution and uphold the truce.

Megaphone diplomacy was revealed when president Yudhoyono talked on the phone over the weekend with France's president Nicolas Sarkozy - the current president of the UNSCboth of whom see the need to end the war in Gaza.

In this war, the main argument is perhaps not when and how cease-fire Resolution 1860 should be employed, but whether the resolution serves and protects their respective interests.

Here the job of the diplomats is to convince the "warriors" that a cease-fire would only be the beginning andshould prescribe to dialog over acts of terror.

We see that every political leader and diplomat wants to be seenif not to be deserved - as a major player in what one may call the cease-fire game.

The appearance of peacemaking suggests international power and prestige and is accompanied by their endless meetings.

Politicians and diplomats thrive on the process, and it is politically correct to talk about ending the "suffering of the Palestinians". As a result, the field has become even more crowded, with the UN Secretary-General, Turkey, Russia, numerous European nations, Qatar, Egyptfar more quietly - the outgoing Bush administration completing the group.

It is obvious that no war ends without a cessation of hostilities.

It is also true to say that war is a momentary event and there is a time when the warring parties are ready to enter a stage when they - with an intermediary perhapswill go to the negotiating table.

Representatives of the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas were in Cairo to discuss the crisis. But beyond this stage, does one expect Hamas and Israel to abandon their war objectives?

On the one hand, the level of trust, at least at the moment, between Israel and Hamas is nonexistent. Diplomats, on the other hand, are aware that the gap between public relations and the substance of the UNSC Resolution 1860 that hopefully will lead to an end of the conflict is seemingly huge.

The initial cease-fire is now in place to avert a larger war in the Middle East. But the statements made by the officials of Hamas and Israel about Resolution 1860 are a clear indication of their unwillingness to abandon their strategy of a much more open war.

It is only a matter of time when Iran and Syria, a long-time patron of the Hamas, will become involved in the crisis.

If Israel does continue its military operations until after the inauguration of Barack Obama as the next US president, then it will be time for the United States to exert even stronger pressure on Israel.

Diplomats, particularly from those countries considered to be stakeholders in the Gaza crisis, will presumably not take a single minute to stretch their legs given the warnings from Israel and Hamas of their next war strategy.

They must be sure that, in spite of strong resistance from the Israelis and Hamas, the resolution will lead to a durable truce in the Gaza Strip, or we will see that a premature end will simply serve as the beginning point for the next and expanded round of fighting due to the continued tension and skepticism on both sides. For a cease-fire to be successful, the diplomats should be weaving a net of trust among the "warriors" and only then can the diplomats further proceed with future peace proposals.

The writer is a lecturer in the International Relations Postgraduate Studies Program at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

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Lessons for Burma from Thailand Crisis

By PAVIN CHACHAVALPONGPUN Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What does Thailand’s protracted political crisis tell its neighboring countries? What are the lessons to be learned from the Thai experiences? And what is the most vital message for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Thailand is a member, as the organisation moves toward a greater regional integration?

The current political stalemate in Thailand is the work of two competing networks; one that supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the other the old establishment.

Thaksin is represented by the red-shirt movement which comprises the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the poor in far-flung regions and underprivileged Thais. The old establishment is supported by Bangkok elite, part of the military and big business. Its notable agent is the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose members choose to wear yellow shirts that symbolise the king’s color.

The battle between the two political networks has been ferocious. The Pattaya incident and the Bangkok inferno signalled that at least one side of the network was willing to engage in a warlike fight to undermine its opponent. In the process, leaders of both networks claimed to act for democracy. But their brands of democracy have so far failed to untie the political deadlock.

The deep turmoil in Thailand reveals certain realities which have long existed in the region. Yet, leaders in the region have pretended not to see them. This time, as Thailand found itself on the brink of becoming a failed state, a few lessons could be learned by its neighboring countries.

First, continued crisis and escalating violence imply that democracy has remained a fragile commodity. A decade ago, Thailand was praised for its rapid economic development and progressive democratisation. Today, its political domain is transformed into a battlefield between two powerful forces possessing two different ideologies.

The Thai case shows that an elected government with excessive power, living on corruption and lack of respect for human rights, can be vulnerable; that traditional power-holders must face up to modern-day reality whereby the voice of the majority is the true voice of democracy; that the military has to be depoliticised for the sake of democracy; and that violent means employed to serve political purposes only further alienate democracy.

The rise of the red-shirt movement has the potential to lead a new opinion in certain Southeast Asian states where democratic rights have been taken away from the people. Not every member of the red shirts supports Thaksin. Some have participated in the rallies genuinely for the return of real democracy to the majority of Thais.

Second, although the power struggle is a part of Thailand’s democratic evolution and this proves that the country has come a long way since the political transition in 1932, its political drama does not necessarily encourage positive changes in certain parts of the region. It could send out the wrong message.

The message, for example, that anti-government activities must not be tolerated. The message that stability is more precious than changes, or even more than democratic rights, and that challenge in all forms to the ruling regime must not be allowed. And that Western democracy is not really compatible with Asian societies, as defended by Asian leaders for generations.

In other words, the Thai conflict could have compelled illegitimate regimes elsewhere, including Burma, to tighten their grip of power for fear of public disobedience and uncontrollable situations.

Third, Asean has been led to believe that the sole major obstacle to regional integration stems from the widening gap between the more and the less economically developed members. Unless Asean closes this economic gap, regional integration will remain largely elusive.

Yet, Asean leaders have overlooked the fact that a widening political gap, in terms of different levels of democratic development, has also affected the process of regionalism. The Thai political unrest has already delayed Asean gatherings. The political storm has held back the Thai leadership in Asean. The organisation has been operating on autopilot since last year. The slow response to the global financial crisis proved this point.

However, this is not Thailand’s problem alone. The gap in the levels of democratisation in the region has so far tarnished the good works Asean has achieved in other areas.

This existing political gap has produced different mentalities and attitudes among Asean leaders as they look ahead into the future. Some are enthusiastic about Asean’s newborn regionalism. Some are using Asean as merely a symbol of their pretentious embrace of international norms and practices.

Both Thailand and Asean have a long way to go until they meet their needed objectives.

Crisis in Thailand can be used to remind its neighbours that true democratisation is an extremely arduous process. But its postponement would only make this exercise even more excruciating and troublesome.

The author is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. This commentary is his personal view.


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ASEAN presence a prerequisite in any future Asia Pacific community

Lilian Budianto, The Jakarta Post | Sat, 05/01/2010 10:45 AM | Discourse

Jakarta has recently welcomed Russia and the US to join in the East Asia Summit (EAS) after years of veering away from admitting new members into the 16-strong-grouping. The proposal is aimed at bringing together the two Cold War rivals with the 10 ASEAN member-states plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa talked to The Jakarta Post’s Lilian Budianto on the reasons behind this shift in foreign policy.

Question: What led to the decision to welcome Russia and the US into the EAS?
Answer: It is an undoubted fact that the geopolitical trend today and for the immediate future rests on the increasing prominence of Asia, East Asia, and Asia Pacific in general. Whatever we do in our region, in terms of its regional architecture, geopolitical underpinning and structure, will have not only regional but also global implications.

To put things in the global context, our national perspective is to ensure what we call dynamic equilibrium in the Asia Pacific region. Dynamic equilibrium marked by the absence of domination of any single power; dynamic equilibrium where countries can engage with one another in a mutually beneficial and peaceful way. Given this kind of background and geopolitical concerns, we have become recently aware of ideas such as the Asia Pacific Community and the East Asia Community as suggested by some countries. We are looking at where we are now and how we should proceed. Inaction is not an option.

We are aware that we have to think this through. In the first months of my tenure I am very much in the listening mode. I want to know what are the latest ideas and thoughts. Having listened to the Australian and Japanese ideas, we come to several conclusions. One, we must continue with the ASEAN community building track. We must not be diverted away from the ASEAN community track because any future Asia Pacific community must have as a constituent element the ASEAN community. It’s a prerequisite. So, first and foremost we must continue to integrate ourselves into ASEAN community building efforts by 2015.

However, you can walk and whistle at the same time. So, when I said we must concentrate and put emphasis on ASEAN community building, it does not mean that everything else must be put on hold.

Where there are gaps, where there is room for improvement, then we must have the courage to improve and to undertake that. This is where the East Asia Summit comes in, especially vis a vis how best to engage or find the right modalities for the deepening of US and Russia engagement in the region. This is still the ongoing discussion. We have yet to find the right modality, whether via the East Asia Summit or other.

Does ASEAN look to have both Russia and the US joining at one time or it can come in sequence?

Russia has been knocking on the door for some time. They are there and want to join the EAS. We have formally stated that we welcome Russia’s participation in the summit, which is an evolution in our position. At the same time we would also welcome, the US in the EAS, if they wish to join. But we have yet to hear formally from them. Now in terms of the sequence, as to which comes before, that is something we can think through further. Ideally, it would be nice to think that they can do things in tandem or in concert in terms of procedures.

Why not just do it in one go. But there is also the geopolitical context as well, that it would be ideal if both these relatively large countries proceeded in concert.

But these are all still possibilities. It is not Indonesia’s business to suggest anything to these countries because we are yet to fully ascertain what is the preferred modality.

Do all ASEAN member states already agree in principle to include Russia and the US?

This is still being discussed. The leaders in their summit in Hanoi have tasked foreign ministers to consider fully.

the whole subject of regional architecture. I think, to be honest, this will be forever a work-in-progress. There won’t be one day when we can say that it is all done. This is something fluid and dynamic, constantly evolving. There won’t be a moment in time when we say we are not perfect right now and after the two countries join us, this is it. No, we are constantly evolving in a dynamic and fluid situation. Indonesia revels in this kind of dynamic. We are not worried.

We find this dynamic equilibrium is the type of diplomacy that will make progress. We need to be alert to the evolving situation.

Do you have any timeline to complete the discussion on the expansion?

I don’t want to reduce it to the whole issue of expansion per se. It is more than simply an expansion. The fact is we have the ministerial meeting in Hanoi this July and then we have the summit this October and so there will be at least those opportunities to see whether progress can be made.

Indonesia will be chairing ASEAN in 2011 and this is a good opportunity along the line for us to be part of the effort to help shape our regional architecture. For us, sooner is better than later. No need to postpone things that can be done. But at the same time, we are very much aware that this is about comfort levels, we must proceed as they said in ASEAN language: at the best comfortable rate for all.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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The role of Indonesia in the region and the world

Juwono Sudarsono, Canberra Mon, 05/03/2010 9:37 AM Opinion

Indonesia’s strategic vision is defined by its strategic geopolitical and geoeconomic location which defines its perennial interest in keeping track of security trends in the linkages of regional clusters encompassing: Northeast Asia (Japan, China, South Korea) including Taiwan; Southeast Asia (the 10 member states of ASEAN), including Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste; Southwest Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific).

Together with the United States, Canada, Chile and Brazil, the Trans Pacific Partnership constitutes roughly 76 percent of the world’s GDP.

Indonesia is one of the world’s geopolitical “regional pivotal states” along with Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia, the latter seven being co-members of the G20.

In diplomatic forums Indonesia participates in the UN system, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), ASEAN, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and since 2008, in the G20.

Within the ASEAN Security Community (ASC), Indonesia strives to cooperate and maintain intra ASEAN stability with its nine fellow member states in mainland and maritime Southeast Asia.

The three pillars of the ASC (Political-Security, Economic and Social-Cultural) reinforce constructive engagement and maintain a balanced “strategic space” by accommodating the interests of extra regional powers (the US, Japan, China, India and Russia).

Australia and New Zealand both play critical security assurance roles in sustaining this constant “rebalancing engagement” in Southeast Asia.

As the largest ASEAN member state in terms of geographical size, population, and economy, Indonesia’s role is to emphasize collaborative rather than assertive leadership. Indonesia believes that effective and credible leadership within the ASC rest on our improved domestic political cohesion, economic development and national security through provision of good governance, equitable economic development and social justice at home.

A secure ASEAN environment is in our strategic interest just as a stable Indonesia is in the interests of all our ASEAN partners.

As the world’s largest economy, the United States’ military presence in Asia and the Pacific has long defined Asia Pacific security. Throughout the Cold War (1947-1990) and beyond (1990-present), the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) held its role as the “main security provider”.

That preponderance provided its treaty allies (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) to secure 80 percent of energy supplies from the Middle East within a stable Northeast Asia-Southeast Asia-Indian Ocean environment.
It also enabled Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and eventually China to accumulate today’s combined GDP of almost US$12 trillion, whilst at the same time underwriting America’s trade and fiscal deficits.

American military preponderance secured both the intra-regional and trans-regional strategic balance. Japan, South Korea and (since 1978) China provided economic, trade and investment commitments, leading ASEAN to become today a community of 10 nations with a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion.

The security, trade and investment complementarities linking Northeast and Southeast Asia were facilitated by America’s critical role as “regional balancer” underpinning trans-regional security.

The political prominence and economic rise of Japan (GDP $5 trillion), China ($4.8 trillion) and India ($2.4 trillion) lead to graduated desire to increase their political and security presence within each countries “core area of interest” as well as beyond.

In the next 10-15 years ASEAN needs to re-calibrate the strength and quality of its combined conventional forces presence in ways that accommodate the imperative to “co-determine” the terms and conditions of western Asia Pacific security without upsetting the rebalancing process among the major powers, including Russia.

Indonesia’s vision within the ASC is to provide “strategic space” and as well as maintain “technological parity” among all residents as well as among extra-regional powers in order that multilateral cooperation, regional security and economic prosperity reinforce one another.

This new regional security architecture need to secure 38 percent of the world’s 90 percent seaborne trade passing through the straits of Southeast Asia, including the three sea lines of communications traversing the Indonesian archipelago.

The real challenge is to coordinate and synchronize public and private business leaders to harness a concerted vision based on each country’s distinct geopolitical location relative to its geoeconomic competitive strength.
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore exemplify success in utilizing “brainpower” in order “to live off” the rest of the world precisely because they do not possess natural resources.

What combination of “hard”, “soft” and “smart” powers must leadership groups in government, in the military and in private business command in order to be able to connect, cooperate and, at the same time, compete with one another as well as with the rest of the world? Of the annual US$190 trillion global financial market transactions, more than 60 percent connect financial hubs in the Asia Pacific region.

What will be the role of traditional “military power” compared to the growing importance of “non-military warfare” such as the “battle” over brain-ware, creativity, ideas and innovation? What is the optimum mix matching the ability to “deter and destruct” physical targets with the ability to “capture and secure” market share, financial assets and intellectual property? Countries with sizeable populations and large territories must adopt a comprehensive policy vision simultaneously linking the global, the regional, the national, the provincial and the local, so that claims over strategic resources in disputed areas can be resolved through rules-based mediation and peaceful negotiation.

There is need for more skilled and educationally trained military officers who are able to interface the planning of “military battles” over physical space with areas where “non-military battles” of ideas, of technological knowhow and management skills become increasingly prominent in determining a nation’s ability to survive in a “24/7” competitive world. In all Asia Pacific countries the “war-room”, the “board-room” and the “class-room” must interface continuously.

Only in this way can Indonesia’s future generation of military leaders and defense managers ensure that the shared responsibility within ASEAN to sustain multilateral cooperation, regional security and economic development will justly reward our shared vision of planning ahead in safeguarding peace and prosperity throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The writer is a former defense minister. The article is a summary of a presentation by the writer at the Centre for Defense and Strategic Studies, Canberra, Australia, on May 3, 2010.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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Cybersecurity meet ends with calls for global cooperation

Government and business leaders wrapped up a cybersecurity conference here Wednesday agreeing that only global cooperation can protect a vulnerable Internet and interconnected world.

"When it comes to our readiness to protect ourselves from cyberattacks we are not prepared, we are not even close to ready," said Tom Ridge, who headed the Department of Homeland Security under former US president George W. Bush.

Cyberspace has emerged in the 21st century as a new domain along with land, air, sea and space, Ridge told the 400 participants from 40 countries attending the first Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit hosted by the EastWest Institute.

"It's time, one might argue past time, to build the trust and establish the laws, treaties and agreements for the cyberspace domain in this 21st century," he said. "Collective action is and must be our goal."

During three days of talks here, government officials, business leaders and cybersecurity experts discussed how to cope with the myriad threats to computer networks -- from criminal hackers out for financial gain to cyber terrorists seeking to wreak havoc, to nations with cyber warfare capabilities.

While the dangers to power grids, financial markets, transportation systems and other critical infrastructure can never be eliminated entirely, they agreed on a number of steps needed to protect the world's digital architecture.

"We need to exchange -- and there are certain conditions of course -- information about vulnerabilities, threats, attacks," said Patrick Pailloux, director general of France's Network and Information Security Agency.

"We should conduct joint cyber defense exercises," he said.

Besides international cooperation, the participants, who included officials from cyber powers such as Britain, China and Russia in addition to the United States and France, repeatedly stressed the need for the public and the private sectors to work closely on cybersecurity.

"Each government has to enlist the support of its private sector for cybersecurity," said Kamlesh Bajaj, chief executive of the Data Security Council of India.

"Real cybersecurity will only happen if there's cooperation," Bajaj said. "No government can fight cybercrime in isolation."

White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt said governments and the private sector needed to be more transparent about cyberattacks.

"How can you do partnerships with private industry, how can you do it with other governments when everything's behind a veil of secrecy?" he asked.

India's Bajaj warned that while much can be done to protect the world's digital infrastructure from electronic attacks, "vulnerabilities will continue to exist.

"Cybersecurity is not a technology problem that can be solved," he said. "It is a risk to be managed."

Protecting user privacy and educating policy-makers and the public to the seriousness of the threats in cyberspace were cited by participants as other major challenges.

"When you mention cybersecurity to most members of Congress their eyes just glaze over," said Michael McCaul, a Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Texas. "Yet it's one of the most serious issues that we face in this century."

Speaking of cyber espionage, McCaul said "if we caught agents of a foreign power breaking into the Pentagon, stealing physical files, file cabinets, you can imagine the response from the media.

"And yet that's happening in the virtual world every day," he said.

"One of things that we lack when we talk about the cyber threat is imagery," added William Baker, Canada's deputy minister for public safety.

"In the case of cyber crime... what does cyber blood look like?" he asked.

Retired US Air Force Lieutenant General Harry Raduege, former director of the US Defense Information Systems Agency, pointedly reminded participants that reaching a broad consensus on cybersecurity issues will not be easy.

"When I think of the rules of the road, some people drive on the left side of the street and some people on the right so that can cause some healthy collisions," Raduege said.

Source: HERE

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Explainer: Thailand's ongoing political crisis

(CNN) -- The declaration of a state of emergency in Thailand following violent clashes between anti-government and security forces marks the latest escalation in a long-running political crisis which has plunged the southeast Asian country into frequent bouts of disorder and instability.
The scene from the streets of Bangkok on Monday showed widespread protests against the government.

This weekend's protests, which included forcing the postponement of a summit of Asian leaders in the southern coastal city of Pattaya and demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok, were orchestrated by red-shirted supporters of the controversial and corruption-tainted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin -- a multibillionaire media tycoon elected in 2001 on a populist platform that promised universal healthcare and cash handouts to poor villagers -- was ousted from power in a bloodless army coup in 2006 and has been in exile abroad since being sentenced last October to two years in prison after being convicted of a corruption charge by Thailand's Supreme Court.

But Thaksin remains a polarizing figure in Thailand, commanding substantial support in the countryside.

Until last year, Thaksin's allies had remained in power with the government headed by the exiled prime minister's brother-in law, Somchai Wongsawat, despite disruptive protests by the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose supporters dressed in yellow and represented Thailand's traditional ruling class, suspicious of Thaksin's populist model of democracy.
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But the PAD achieved its goal of ousting Somchai in December after a week-long occupation of the prime ministerial Government House offices and blockading Bangkok's main airports, stranding thousands of tourists.

Thailand's Constitutional Court subsequently disbanded Somchai's People Power Party for electoral fraud and barred Somchai from office for five years, paving the way for Thai lawmakers to elect opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as prime minister. "Red shirts" take to streets

But Thaksin's supporters insist that Abhisit was not democratically elected and have vowed to protest until fresh elections are held.

Conservative economics and values and a strong military

On Sunday, Thaksin told protesters via a video link from an unknown location that he would return home to lead them in a march on the capital if necessary.

"Now that they have tanks on the street and the soldiers are coming out, so it is time for the people to come out for a revolution," Thaksin said.

Writing in a blog, CNN's Bangkok Correspondent Dan Rivers said he saw five possible scenarios emerging from the current crisis.

Firstly, Abhisit could call a snap election, which he would be unlikely to win because Thaksin's allies continue to lead polls.

Secondly, he could resign, resulting in the creation of another coalition which would struggle to unify the rival factions, leaving open the likelihood of further protests from one side or the other.

Thirdly, Thaksin could return from exile to lead a red-shirted uprising; a scenario which Rivers describes as "messy and bloody."

Fourthly, the army could again intervene, as it has done in the past, although Rivers says that would do little to heal the deep divisions between both sides.

Finally, Rivers said, Abhisit could choose to ride out the protests or "get tough." But both strategies would likely damage his standing.

"Trying to ignore the protests will leave him looking even weaker; ordering a violent crack-down may simply harden the resolve of the red shirts and provide fodder to their questionable claims that Abhisit has dictatorial tendencies," Rivers said.

Source: CNN

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The fall-out of the Thai political crisis on Asean

By Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation
Published on April 19, 2010

The ongoing political conflict on Bangkok's streets and the bloody clashes on April 10 have already rattled the nerves of Asean leaders as they ponder their grouping's future political landscape.

Last week, Vietnam was quick in wanting to issue a statement on behalf of Asean on the violence. On the same day, Cambodia immediately stepped in, calling for a special Asean summit to discuss the crisis in its eastern neighbour - unprecedented moves. Both plans were aborted.

Naturally, Thailand blocked the chair's statement. Bangkok felt it was not necessary as the Abhisit government is still in power and continues to handle the crisis in a transparent manner.

Most importantly, Thailand is an open society and the local and foreign media are free to report on the unfolding events on a daily basis. In responding to numerous enquiries, the government reiterated the non-use of forces during the confrontation.

Finally, Vietnam, on it own issued a short statement saying: "As a neighbouring country of Thailand, a member of Asean and concurrently the chair of Asean, Vietnam follows with great attention the current complicated developments in Thailand. Vietnam wants to see the parties concerned exercise restraint, refrain from violence, and peacefully settle issues through dialogue so as to bring about early stability for Thailand." That much was clear.

Within hours, Vietnam also responded to Phnom Penh's request with a short and crispy message: it is not practical to have such a summit. Putting the two diplomatic moves together, one wonders the reasons why Vietnam and Cambodia were so eager to highlight the Thai political uncertainty.

Throughout the political quagmire in Burma, since its admission in 1997, the two members have yet to play any pro-active role at all.

For instance, at the Hanoi summit, the Asean leaders discussed the situation inside Burma, especially the upcoming farcical election.

Quite a few countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, wanted a strong statement from the chair to express "concern" about the current conditions there. But Vietnam as the Asean chair refused to do so. Therefore, the final statement by the chair contained the lowest denominator of Asean's positions on Burma in a decade.

The statement "underscored" the importance of national reconciliation in Burma and the holding of a general election in a free, fair and inclusive manner.

The previous Asean chair's statement on Burma included the call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners (2003). During the bloodshed in September 2007, Asean expressed revulsion at the violence in Burma and the use of weapons in the crackdown against monks and students. At the Hanoi summit, the leaders told the Burmese that Asean was ready to share its electoral experience to help Burma; they could also send observers. But there was no response from Burma. Deep down, Asean would like to see Burma carry out a decent election that is acceptable internationally as it would be a boon to the grouping's credibility as a whole. For the past 13 years, Asean has been suffocating from the family's rogue member, who is not willing to listen or consider opinions and requests of peers.

Last October, Vietnam and Cambodia (along with Laos and Brunei) did not back Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's initiative calling for the pardon and release of Aung San Suu Kyi. After months of lobbying, the planned joint Asean appeal finally fumbled. Obviously as the Asean chair, Hanoi can take an initiative to reflect on any issue as it sees fit. It must be noted that most of the past Asean joint statements made were mainly on common crisis such as food security, financial crisis and recovery, pandemics, among others.

Such is the dilemma of the 43-year-old rule-based organisation. Political division remains as stark as ever. Southeast Asia, now under a single Asean roof, remains the world's only region that comprises all forms of political systems.

They range from absolute to constitutional monarchies, one-party dictatorship to one-party cronyism including various shades of socialism-cum-capitalism.

Whenever a consensus is needed, Asean members take an extraordinary amount of time to decide, especially on sensitive issues.

Amid all these inconsistencies within Asean, there is one bright spot - Indonesia's democracy, and its further consolidation.

The New York-based Freedom House picked Indonesia as the only free country in the region. On the day Vietnam rejected Cambodia's request for a summit on the Thai crisis, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was speaking in front of an international gathering of the Sixth Assembly of World Movement for Democracy with over 600 participants from 110 countries in a downtown hotel. It was a vote of confidence for the 12-year-old democracy, the world's third largest.

In his keynote speech, Yudhoyono declared proudly that democracy in Indonesia is irreversible and a daily fact of life.

The home-grown democracy in his country, the president reiterated, showed that democracy and economic development can go hand in hand as it was no longer a zero-sum game. With the third highest economic growth among G-20 countries, after China and India, Indonesia is confident that its democratic development is on the right track.

He pointed out that the desire to get rid of corruption, collusion and nepotism came wholly from within.

Thailand's democracy, despite its long 78-year history, is still not taking root and the Philippines continues to struggle to find its own democratic formula. The Filipino public are hoping that the next election would enable a respectable leader offering good governance to emerge. Just imagine the implications on the Asean political landscape if Thailand and the Philippines overcome their political instability and attain a certain degree of democratic maturity. Together with Indonesia, they would represent nearly 70 per cent of the Asean population of 595 million. It could be a new benchmark.

It is extremely significant that Jakarta is taking up the Asean chair next year, changing places with Brunei. First of all, Indonesia's chair automatically pre-empts Burma from resuming its skipped chair in 2005. The earlier fear was that after the scheduled election and a new government in Burma this year, the regime might request Asean to return its chair. For 2012, Cambodia has already reaffirmed that it would surely stick to the original schedule as the general election is slated for 2013. Burma, under the name of Myanmar, will take up the chair in 2015 when Asean is supposed to become one community.

Finally, this would allow the grouping's biggest member to pursue its broad global agenda as the Asean chair. It remains to be seen how Indonesia can balance its global and regional roles.

Jakarta has told Asean that as a member of G-20 it would not be able to speak for Asean, but it can convey the Asean input. Yudhoyono's second five-year term would witness Indonesia's enthusiasm on issues pertaining to democracy, international peace-keeping and building, climate change, responsibility to protect and the anti-terrorism campaign. If Jakarta succeeds, the prestige of Asean will be further augmented worldwide.


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Thai shadow over the ASEAN

P. S. Suryanarayana

New proposals of East Asian harmony must be studied in the context of the growing importance of Group of 20 major and emerging nations and not just in the light of ground realities within the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is dismayed at the ferocity of the latest clashes between Thailand's security forces, including soldiers, and the anti-government protesters in Bangkok. Thailand is a founding member of the ASEAN.

The Thai authorities and protesters are still coming to terms with the murky political meaning of Saturday's clashes, the worst since the 1992 riots in Bangkok against the country's military powers. As at the start of the current month-long crisis, the issue still remains a simple but profound choice between a really representative order and a system with considerable political space for the military establishment.

For the 10-member ASEAN, which aspires to stay as the prime mover for ensuring inter-state harmony in East Asia, the latest Thai crisis could not have occurred at a more awkward moment. Already, the association has been in a state of embarrassment over the political scene in the military-ruled Myanmar, another member-state. Having promised a “democracy-restoring general election,” the Myanmar junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), recently crafted the relevant poll laws in such a manner as to dissuade the dissident National League for Democracy from thinking of contesting. A level-playing poll arena is something that the SPDC is not prepared to extend to those wishing to participate in the promised transition to democracy.

Until recently, major ASEAN powers did not feel compelled to bracket Thailand with Myanmar as being equally burdensome to the association. For a number of years now, the ASEAN leaders, excluding the SPDC minions but including the Thai politicians, have felt frustrated over the Myanmar junta's hostility to the idea of democracy as widely understood. In contrast, Thailand's fellow-members in the ASEAN did not, until recently, feel the need to see the association's collective future under the prism of Thailand's unabated political crisis since the 2006 military coup there.

Nearly three years ago, when Thailand took up the ASEAN's rotating Chair, the other members even expressed confidence that Bangkok, with its tradition of statecraft, could be trusted to lead well. However, Thailand's now-completed role as the ASEAN Chair belied such expectations, with the prolonged political crisis in Bangkok being a major contributory factor. And, the latest mood in the collective ASEAN forum over Thailand is one of deep dismay laced with a degree of plain-speak criticism.

Responding to media queries on the political clashes and killings in Bangkok on April 10, the Singapore Foreign Ministry took a decisive stand. Singapore said: “If the situation [in Bangkok] is unresolved, it will have serious implications for Thailand's future and the future of the ASEAN. Singapore hopes that all Thais, whatever their political views, will place the interests of the country first and reach a durable compromise that will enable Thailand to return to normality as soon as possible. This is important not just for the Thai people but also for the ASEAN as a community. The ASEAN cannot progress if one of its most important members remains mired in political instability.” Singapore's views echo the sentiments of several other ASEAN players as well.

Such forthright comments, even as an advice of goodwill, are rare within the ASEAN bloc. This should reflect the extent of the ASEAN's collective concerns over its future role in East Asia at this sensitive time.

Some critical factors for political stability in East Asia are the continuing rise of China as a potential superpower, the hint of a changing axis of focus in America's foreign policy under President Obama, and his new nuclear-posture deal with Russia ahead of the ongoing nuclear security summit he is hosting.

Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has now proposed the idea of an informal ASEAN+8 grouping. The idea is that such a new group could gather on the margins of the summit meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum whenever they are held in the Asian continent. The eight countries, as the ASEAN's dialogue partners in this proposed process, will be, in alphabetical order: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia, and the United States. Of these eight, only Russia and the U.S. are currently not members of the East Asia Summit (EAS), a group convened by the ASEAN for summit-level meetings every year.

Singapore's proposal will be studied by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers who are expected to assess the relative merits of two other initiatives, one each by Japan and Australia, as well. The Japanese idea of an East Asian Community is also aimed at creating an EAS-Plus forum, with no finality yet about the possible new members and the logistics of a larger dialogue. Another proposal doing the rounds is Australia's push for an Asia Pacific Community. Here too, Canberra has left the clarity on all relevant issues to be decided through wide-ranging consultations among the major powers with a direct stake in the stability and progress of the EAS region.

Each of these three proposals does provide India with some political and economic space, whatever the extent, in East Asia. New Delhi's interactions with Beijing and Tokyo on some parallel or overlapping tracks are nothing particularly new. Of some relative novelty, though, is the increasing intensity of the dialogue between New Delhi and Seoul. This was exemplified most recently by the Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue, which India's Secretary (East), Latha Reddy, held in Seoul. The objective was to inject greater substance to the bilateral “strategic partnership.”

The comparative equations among the EAS powers and their individual levels of comfort in their collective and independent interactions with the U.S. will become evident during the ongoing nuclear security summit in Washington. As Japanese official Kazuo Kodama notes, counter-terror measures in the nuclear domain rather than the U.S. nuclear umbrellas for its allies drives the interactive agenda of this summit.

About the bigger global picture, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has said, in response to a question from this correspondent in Singapore, that the equation between the U.S. and China, as an informal Group of Two, will be crucial within the G-20 framework of dialogue among the major and emerging powers. Given such thinking, the new proposals of East Asian harmony must be studied in the G-20 context as well, not just the ASEAN ground realities.


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