This week marks another series of busy meetings among ASEAN members and their dialogue partners.
The Philippines President Arroyo called for closer relations between the European Union (EU) and ASEAN at her first official visit to Portugal. She said, “We hope it [EU-Asean FTA] can be signed in November in Singapore during the presidency of Portugal in the European Union.”
However, the ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong who was at the 8th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Germany, cautioned against overly high expectations, “The EU is a rules-based economic grouping, while Asean is far from any formalized integrated economic structure….. They have defined rules and established practices for every sector and product and it will take a long time for us from Asean to digest and conclude acceptable arrangements for both sides. It'll be a long, drawn-out process.”
This is the first time that ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting is held with participation from new members, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, the ASEAN Secretariat, Bulgaria and Romania. Other issues discussed included cooperation on renewable and alternative energy, counter terrorism and labour and migration.
Closer to the region, the ASEAN members are meeting with their South Korean counterparts in Vietnam as part of the 18th meeting of the ASEAN-Republic of Korea (ROK) Trade Negotiating Committee. The ASEAN-ROK FTA came into effect on 1 June. The FTA is expected to help Vietnam reduce the US$3 billion trade deficit annually and increase trade between ROK and ASEAN.
In Singapore, the 6th Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-ASEAN Regional Cooperation Meeting is underway. Hiroaki Isobe, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, Japan Embassy inSingapore, said, “Japan attaches importance to the regional cooperation with ASEAN, and is strongly committed to speed up the integration efforts among the ASEAN countries. Japan will also provide US$52 million of fresh grant contribution for enhancing Japan-ASEAN economic relationship.” ASEAN members rank among the largest recipients of Japan’s bilateral assistance. In 2005, about 19% ofJapan’s total bilateral assistance went to ASEAN members.
Singapore is also hosting the annual meeting of the ASEAN police chiefs. At the meeting, the police chiefs agreed to adopt a new framework which would be implemented in three stages over six years. The framework will involve training designed to enable police to respond to cybercrimes and allow experts to identify gaps in fighting cybercrimes.
Aseanapol and Interpol will also widen cooperation: The Asean database of criminals, called the Electronic Aseanapol Database System, will be linked to Interpol's I-24/7 Global Police Communication System. The latter is a database of wanted criminals in 186 countries. The database link means that, among other things, a suspect picked up in an Asean country can now be checked against the combined database to see if he is wanted elsewhere.
In Malaysia, the 21st Asia-Pacific Roundtable (APR) which takes place over 4 days from 4-7 Jun had Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi as its keynote speaker. He spoke of Asean as a working model for regional cooperation. Admitting that though there are still lingering distrust, most realised it is “lunacy” for any Asia-Pacific countries to go to war against each other. Another key speaker at APR, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, former Thai foreign minister and a candidate for the post of ASEAN Secretary-General warned Asean that they would be left behind in the competition if “our affairs, relations and cooperation” are not managed differently.
The co-founder and consultant editor of Asia Sentinel in Hong Kong Philip Bowring who also spoke at the APR noted that many of the ASEAN members were not thinking regionally. Instead, they were more concerned about their bilateral ties with the bigger regional powers (such as China, United Statesand the EU), saying, “Bilaterals can be seductive but the winners are usually the big players, not the small one - and no Asean country is a big player.” (7 June 2007)
Gloria pushes free trade between Asean, Europe(Manila Standard, 7 June 2007)
Asean to boost ability to fight cybercrime (Straits Times, 7 June 2007)
Asian patrol for World Wide Web; Singaporeto lead regional initiative to fight cyber crime, coordinate security (Today, 7 June 2007)
Asia-Euro meeting focuses on energy security (Manila Standard, 6 June 2007)
EU, ASEAN ties in Arroyo's agenda (BusinessWorld, 6 June 2007)
Tariff cuts under Asean-Korea FTA in effect since June 1 (Business Times, 6 June 2007)
Japanto deepen ties with ASEAN nations (ChannelNewsAsia, 6 June 2007)
Asean-Police (Bernama, 6 June 2007)
Find ways to regain edge, Asean urged (New Straits Times, 6 June 2007)
Follow Asean's way to cement peace, says PM (New Straits Times, 6 June 2007)
ASEAN-RoK trade agreement benefits all (Vietnam News Agency, 6 June 2007)
ASEAN Needs To Buck Up To Face Economic Challenges, Says Former Thai FM (Bernama, 5 June 2007)
ASEAN System Can Be Used To Manage Peace, Security in Asia-Pacific: PM (Bernama, 5 June 2007)