Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali
While struggling to overcome regional spats, ASEAN member states are trying to play a role as peace mediators in the region and globally.
Against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, China’s row with ASEAN states over claims in the South China Sea and tensions in the Korean Peninsula, and widely discredited elections in Myanmar, the grouping’s foreign ministers, who will meet here next week, are seeking to enhance their ability to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts while joining forces in peacekeeping operation and building peace in post-conflict areas.
Building on results from the grouping’s recent defense ministers’ meeting in Jakarta , foreign ministers are poised to agree on unprecedented statements on closer security and military cooperation to avoid misunderstandings and suspicion.
“We emphasized the importance of institutionalizing expertise and capacities in areas of conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and post-conflict peace building in order to strengthen the vital role of ASEAN member states in supporting… the maintenance of regional peace and security,” a draft of the ministers’ joint communiqué to be released next Tuesday read.
At an ASEAN summit in Jakarta in May, the grouping’s leaders agreed to form the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), seen as a starting point for a more powerful body to help resolve intraregional conflicts.
Coupled with the defense ministers’ plan to establish an ASEAN peacekeeping center network, which will pool the grouping’s military and civilian resources to tackle disasters and conflicts, ASEAN may be beginning to move toward a genuine security community.
“It is a priority for us to make sure Asia Pacific remains a peaceful, secure and stable region. These are
the conditions that enable us to develop. We have enjoyed a peace dividend,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.
Despite enjoying peace for the last 40 years – which many attribute to ASEAN’s existence – the escalating conflict between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year reminded ASEAN of the need to step up confidence building measures, conflict prevention efforts and conflict resolution, he said.
“We can never take the peace we have enjoyed for granted. The Indonesian view is that we have to maintain the condition,” Marty said.
On the South China Sea issue, ASEAN ministers vowed to persuade China to agree on the establishment of a stronger code of conduct (COC) rather than a mere declaration of code of conduct (DOC), which remains stalled since 2002.
“We have commenced the discussion on a regional code of conduct in the South China Sea. We look forward to its finalization before the 19th ASEAN Summit [in November this year]” the draft of the joint communiqué read.
On the Korean Peninsula issue, the ASEAN ministers “reiterated that the ASEAN Regional Forum [ARF], of which six participants are all members of the Six Party Talks, could explore to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue and consultation among parties concerned”.