ASEAN FM working on expansion of East Asia Summit: Surin

Lilian Budianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta Fri, 04/16/2010 10:37 AM World

ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said foreign ministers of the group’s ten member states have been working on the expansion of an East Asia Summit (EAS), following Jakarta’s endorsement to including Russia and the US into the 16-member grouping.

“The issue is now in [the hands of] the ASEAN Coordinating Council between foreign ministers. They are looking at how to expand [the group],” Surin told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Surin was responding to a press release by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, which said that the decision on admitting Russia into the EAS was made during the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi last week.

“The issue has not been decided,” Surin said.

Russia has been looking to join the EAS for years but ASEAN leaders have mixed views on admitting new members into the group that brings together the ten ASEAN states plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Jakarta and Singapore, which previously opposed new members joining the EAS, have recently welcomed Russia as well as the US to join.

Jakarta’s shift in foreign policy has signaled its preference for a balance of power inside the grouping that has been dominated by China. The move also aims at maintaining a neutral foreign policy as Indonesia, whose economic growth was the third fastest in the region among major Asian economies, has been courted by many major powers for strategic relations.

Centre for Strategic and International Studies executive director Rizal Sukma said the expansion would likely happen as long as it was not aimed at replacing the role of ASEAN Plus Three, which has remained the driver of East Asia integration. ASEAN Plus Three consists of ASEAN countries, China, Japan and South Korea.

“But there is a dilemma. If the EAS expansion does not include proposals to work on concrete agenda such as those of ASEAN Plus Three, the US will not join. The US requires guarantees on the benefits it will get by joining EAS and this will likely irritate China.“

The expansion of EAS is said to create conflicts of interest between the US and China, which has been at odds over trade, Taiwan arms sales and the Dalai Lama’s visits to the US as well as human rights.

Jakarta has taken over the ASEAN chairmanship from Brunei for next year and observers say Jakarta would likely take advantage of its leadership role to launch new initiatives for regional integration.

When asked about the possibility of wrapping up EAS expansion next year during Jakarta’s leadership stint, Surin said “We don’t know”.

“[But] I am sure Indonesia will be very active, as it is the largest, most active member and the host of the ASEAN secretariat.

Since the charter, it has been very dynamic in pushing the community forward. I am sure Indonesia will make a tremendous contribution,“ he said.

When Jakarta chaired ASEAN in 2003, it proposed the ASEAN security community, which has became one of the three community pillars of the 42-year-old group.

Clipping from The Jakarta Post

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