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ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) – reaffirmation of ASEAN’s status?

Updated On: Aug 01, 2006

The ARF ended on 28 July 2006 with ASEAN seemingly regaining its previous prominence in regional affairs.

First, not only has the French agreed to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) but the EU itself has indicated its interest to accede to the TAC.

Second, unlike last year, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice made an appearance at the ARF meeting despite the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.

On the downside, however, North Korea did not take it too kindly at criticism over its missile tests. The North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun threatened to leave the ARF, “We may reconsider whether to stay in ARF.”  North Korea did not want to participate in the six-party talks at the sidelines of the ARF.

Instead, ten countries- five of the Six-Party Talks members, plus Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand- came together to discuss the North Korean issue. The US had originally only sought an eight-way meeting but China asked for Indonesia and New Zealand to be included. Jakarta has friendly ties with the North and New Zealand is seen as neutral. While US Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Hill and others have said that the ten-party talks would not be a new institution, Rice has suggested that this new meeting might be a fixture and there might be informal consultations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings.

On the issue of Myanmar, Condoleezza Rice did not criticise the ASEAN members for watering down the statement on Myanmar issued earlier the week at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. Instead, she said, “A statement like the one that ASEAN has made is an important evolution of the ASEAN position to the one that I think is becoming more clear about the challenge that the international system faces with Burma.” 

The ARF also toned down the earlier strong statements issued by the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and the ASEAN Plus Three Meeting on the issue of violence in the Middle East. The ARF statement “condemned all acts of terror, violence and destruction that have resulted in injury and death of innocent civilian property and infrastructure”, leaving out direct references to Israel. The ministers at the ARF also failed to unite to urge for a cease-fire.

Instead, Indonesia held a special breakfast meeting in Kuala Lumpur (on Friday 28 July) with four other major Muslim countries, IranMalaysiaPakistan andBangladesh and together, issued a stronger statement, calling for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.

While the above events suggest that ASEAN is regaining regional leadership, ASEAN’s ability to make a real difference on international events is still “a long way to go”. Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Yeo commented that, “The most important thing for us is to concentrate on our internal construction, to be strong first before we talk about playing an international role. In any case, we should have a sense of proportion and have a sense of our own limitations.” 

Sources:

A Long Way to Go (Today, 29-30 July 2006)

EU Likely to Accede to ASEAN Treaty of Amity (The Business Times, 29 July 2006)

EU to Sign Non-Aggression Pact (The Straits Times, 29 July 2006)

Pyongyang Condemned over Missile Tests (The Straits Times, 29 July 2006)

Washington’s Slip-Up Shoots Down Possible Six-Party Talks in KL (Malaysia General News, 29 July 2006)

Informal Talks on North Korea (New Straits Times, 29 July 2006)

ASEAN Back on Radar Screen (The Straits Times, 29 July 2006)

ARF Softens Rhetoric on Mideast (Jakarta Post, 29 July 2006)

Ten-Party Meeting ASEAN Malaysia Forum Urges North Korean to Return to Talks (BBC Monitoring [Choson Ilbo website, South Korea], 28 July 2006)

Asian Countries Agree 6-Way Talks Remain Best Framework for North Korea (Japan Economic Newswire, 28 July 2006)

Meeting of 5 Muslim Nations Urges Cease-Fire in Mideast Crisis (Japan Economic Newswire, 28 July 2006)