This week will see a series of ASEAN-related meetings in Kuala Lumpur - ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), ASEAN Plus Three (APT) meeting, various ASEAN dialogues and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
The packed agenda includes the agreement for visa-free travel within ASEAN, East Timor’s formal bid for ASEAN membership, Myanmar’s (lack of) progress towards democratisation, the situation in the Middle East among others. While ASEAN is likely to make a strong statement on Myanmar to “show its relevance”, ironically, it is likely that the talks taking place on the sideline will have greater reverberations on the Asia-Pacific region than the formal meetings.
At the AMM, an update on the Eminent Persons Group’s (EPG) work on the ASEAN Charter will be given. Tun Musa Hitam, the Chairman of the EPG has called for the scrapping of the consensus decision-making system, saying that “Consensus decision-making has more negative than positive attributes towards ASEAN’s progress for regional integration beyond 2020. No doubt we need to change that.”
At the ARF meeting, the ASEAN members will welcome to US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. The signing of the ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership Agreement will be the centrepiece of the US attempt to make up for her absence last year. This agreement is a five-year action plan with a broad framework to boost trade, investment and political ties between the two.
As an indication of the pale shadows from the Middle East troubles, France has announced the postponing of the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). France, as the President of the UN Security Council is “very much involved” in the current UN efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. France would have been the first European country to accede to TAC. While not likely to have any significant implication on the regional scene, French’s signature would have been a politically symbolic gesture of its commitment to the region.
Notwithstanding the packed agenda above, the highlight of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and possibly the ASEAN Regional Forum will be on ASEAN’s handling of the issue of Myanmar. ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong indicated that the Myanmar issue has become too much of a burden for ASEAN, “In the first place, it is not an ASEAN problem to the extent that all other ASEAN agenda items are neglected.” It is still not clear what “abandoning Myanmar to the UN” means. However, it seems to suggest that the ASEAN members might be willing to exclude Myanmar from the ASEAN-EU FTA if the issue of Myanmar becomes the deal-breaker for the negotiation of the FTA.
The talks on the sidelines will, however, be likely to be more notable. As North Korea traditionally sends representatives to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), it is likely that the US will attempt to resume the stalled six party talks at the sidelines of the ARF. US officials have suggested that even if the North Koreans do not turn up, the other five (China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US) could still meet. North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun is expected to attend the ARF.
The Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing are also expected to hold bilateral discussions. They have met earlier in May at the Asia Cooperation Dialogue meeting held in Doha, Qatar.
Finally, two contenders for the post of the UN Secretary-General are also likely to continue their soft campaigning at the ASEAN meetings. Both South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon and the ASEAN candidate Surakiart Sathirathai will be present at some of the ASEAN meetings this week to continue canvassing for support. The latter will meet the ASEAN Foreign Ministers on Monday (24 July) to discuss his coordinated plans for his candidacy.
These side-meetings are a reminder that the ASEAN members need to engage the major powers in regional security. Nonetheless, by bringing all these powers together, ASEAN’s contribution to regional security is not insignificant.
Thailand Seeks US, China Support for UN Top Job (Agence France Presse, 24 July 2006)
ASEAN Hails Partnership Deal With US (Agence France-Presse, 24 July 2006)
Chinese, Japanese FMs to Meet at Asian Forum (Agence France Presse, 24 July 2006)
France Postpones Signing of Landmark Treaty with ASEAN (Agence France-Presse, 24 July 2006)
Call to Revamp Consensus System (New Straits Times, 24 July 2006)
ASEAN May Have to Take Tougher Line to Prove its Own Relevance (South China Morning Post, 24 July 2006)
ASEAN Nations, Partners to Meet (The Straits Times, 24 July 2006)
Southeast Asia Mulling Whether to Hand Myanmar Problem to UN (Agence France-Presse, 24 July 2006)
ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership A Coming To Terms by Superpower (New Straits Times, 23 July 2006)
UN To Hold “Beauty Contest” To Pick New Secretary-General (The Independent [UK], 21 Jul 2006)