The ASEAN Regional Forum concluded this weekend, with many countries hailing the talks as a positive step towards greater regional cooperation on security issues.
The US condemned acts of “intimidation” in the South China Sea, and said the recent deal between China and ASEAN nations to create a set of guidelines for future negotiations to establish a “code of conduct” was just a “first step” towards a more sweeping, binding code of conduct.
Chinese Foreign minister Yang Jiechi has told claimants that “freedom of navigation in the region is guaranteed,” as China has sought to keep the US out of direct negotiations on the region.
Report & Analysis: US says South China Sea is global problem [AFP, 24 Jul 2011]
While countries acknowledged that progress was made on the South China Sea issue at the Forum, some, like Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, sought to manage expectations for the Forum’s ability to solve the disputes. "It's impossible for a forum like the ASEAN Regional Forum, made up of 27 or so countries, to be the forum that actually nitty-gritty in actual detail solve the problem," he said. "We are just not equipped for that purpose."
Report & Analysis: US Strengthens ties to Asian regional grouping [NPR, 24 Jul 2011]
Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam said that the latest ASEAN Regional Forum has “completely redefined the concept of regional security,” as it has created a more inclusive approach to dealing with regional issues. Shanmugam added that the ARF has been able to address the major relationships between the great powers, while still providing a forum to deal with the concerns and interests of smaller nations.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa added that “the region [is] safer now than before the meeting.”
This year’s ARF represented the first meeting of the North and South Korean Foreign Ministers since 2008. "The ARF is a comfortable forum for them to do a bilateral,” said FM Shanmugam. “The fact that they met is good and we hope it will lead to some positive developments over a period of time. No one is expecting anything to happen overnight but it shows you the importance of this ASEAN setting and what we mean by ASEAN centrality.”
Report & Analysis: ARF “completely redefines concept of regional security” [24 Jul 2011]
Report & Analysis: The region is ‘safer now’ than before regional meetings [25 Jul 2011]
Still, some progress was made as the two sides met, with both countries stating their willingness to implement the 2005 statement of the six-party talks. However, whereas the 2005 statement advocates denuclearization talks in exchange for ties with the United States and other economic incentives, the US administration is hesitant to engage in talks unless it receives assurances they will be conducted in good faith. The US is wary of “talk for talk’s sake.”
At the very least, the ARF seems to have placed talks with North Korea back on the front burner of international affairs, and underscored the fact that all parties understand it is in their best interests to engage in talks.
Report & Analysis: Ball in NK’s court over nuke talks [The Korea Times, 24 Jul 2011]