Jakarta, 25 July 2011

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Dialogue partnership, security cooperation and the engagement of the people of ASEAN continue to be central in the discussions among the stakeholders of ASEAN – academia, business representatives, civil society organisations, diplomatic community, media persons and think tanks – when they gathered virtually to discuss the 44th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting / Post Ministerial Conferences / 18th ASEAN Regional Forum which concluded in Nusa Dua, Bali last week.

During the six-country briefing session, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan briefed the audience on the highlights, outcomes and follow-up actions from those Meetings. The briefing was held at the Ministry of Education of Indonesia this morning, but connected by video-linking to the five ASEAN capitals – Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, and Ha Noi.

On the issue of the South China Sea, Dr Surin said the Guidelines on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea has demonstrated that all the parties concerned are determined to address the urgent nature of the issue.

He also added that the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is the only platform in the region that addresses security cooperation issues. “This is a platform that has never existed before the ARF came into being. What if there was no ARF? There would be no mechanism for issues as crucial and vital as common security to be discussed,” he quipped.

He pointed out that Dialogue Partners are actively engaging with ASEAN to keep up with the times while fulfilling the purposes and principals of ASEAN. “When our Dialogue Partners say they are interested, it means their business communities are also interested. There are various potential formulae to get involved, for example, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) or turn-key,” he explained. “We just need to speak the language of the market.”

On the East Asian countries, he also added that ASEAN and China are actively planning the various activities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership this year, while ASEAN and Japan are working on a new Declaration to replace the existing one which has been in use since 2003. He added that “much has changed within ASEAN and within Japan since then, including the economic progress and the recent natural disasters in Japan.”

The growing importance of a global cooperation has also encouraged ASEAN to invite and welcome Russia and the United Sates to work together and contribute to the East Asia Summit forum. He said that ASEAN acknowledges that Russia plays a very important role in the region. “Russia is very much welcomed into the ASEAN community. Although there are concerns about the geographical distance between this region and Russia, the country has so much to offer to the region, one of which being the advancement of Russian’s science and technology discipline,” he praised.

In response to a few participants questions on people engagement, he replied that although last week’s Meetings were attended by Foreign Ministers and security was one of the top discussions, the Ministers have not forgotten the role and ownership of the people of ASEAN. He reiterated that the Meetings never swayed from discussing what they could do to help the ASEAN citizens contribute to the realisation of an ASEAN Community.

For example, there will be many instances or scenarios where the youth will be called upon to engage in the promotion of an ASEAN Community in the future. On health, he informed the audience that 15 June has been designated as the ASEAN Dengue Day, while on sports, he updated that the Foreign Ministers have tasked the ASEAN Secretariat to work with the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN to follow up on the idea for ASEAN to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030.

Dr Surin, in answering a question on human rights, said the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights is after all still inter-governmental, hence some documents may take a while to be shared with the people. The focus, however, is the first five years which are the formative years but all the official institutions are in place and they need to be “supported, monitored and criticised” to bring about a sense of obligation and urgency.

The briefing, which Dr Surin said has become “a regular feature” of the work of ASEAN, was supported by the World Bank, the Global Development Learning Network Asia-Pacific and the Ministry of Education of Indonesia. Mr Philip Karp, Advisor to the Office of the Vice President in Washington, thanked the ASEAN Secretariat for its continued confidence to allow the World Bank to provide the technological platform for ASEAN to debate about important issues, and that it hopes to provide similar support whenever possible.

The above are some of the issues discussed among the six capitals during the briefing. To listen to the other issues not elaborated here, please click here to view the session recorded by the Tokyo Development Learning Centre. Later in the afternoon, Dr Surin delivered a similar briefing to the diplomatic corp in Jakarta.