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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