Kuala Lumpur - As Asean marked its 38th anniversary on Aug 8, Malaysia has called on the 10-member organisation to move beyond discussing foreign and economic policies and jointly tackle defence issues. Asean has never held a meeting of defence ministers due to its policy of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
The proposed meeting is among a slew of initiatives outlined by Malaysia, which has just taken over Asean's rotating chairmanship from Laos.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia has proposed that Asean defence ministers meet in Kuala Lumpur next year to discuss regional security.
"What is happening in an Asean country affects other member countries. It should not be considered as an internal matter because whatever is happening, like instability, can threaten the position of other Asean countries," Mr Syed Hamid told reporters on Aug 6.
"We cannot close our ears and eyes and take the don't-want-to-know attitude."
Mr Syed Hamid did not elaborate on the kind of openness Malaysia would like to see in discussions on security. In the past, he had suggested that Asean members should share intelligence and crack down on extremist groups deemed to pose cross-border threats security.
Apart from the defence meeting proposal, Malaysia also wants Asean to take a more people-centric approach by getting people to participate in its activities.
The approach should include encouraging people to get involved in activities such as side events during the 11th Asean Summit, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a message to mark Asean Day.
Other initiatives outlined by Malaysia include developing an Asean development fund; getting approval for a non-aggression treaty among Asean countries; taking a more pro-active stance and role at international meetings; and intensifying efforts to narrow the development gap among Asean countries through existing programmes such as the Vientiane Action Plan and Initiative for Asean integration.
* Asean urged to focus on people (New Straits Times, Aug 8)
* KL proposes Asean ministers meet to talk defence (The Straits Times, Aug 8)
* Malaysia To Call Meeting Of Asean Defence Ministers (Bernama, Aug 6)