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Meetings Digest

1. 6th Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum. Singapore, July 26.

N.B. The Northeast Asia peace and Security Network (NAPSNet) group at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development, Berkeley, California, released a Special Report on August 3 containing a digest of international media reports on the 1999 ARF meeting. The digest was compiled by the United States Information Agency (USIA), and includes an overall summary of the event followed by summaries of the most salient aspects. Interested parties can access the report at the NAPSNet webpage. Contact: Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development, fax: 1-510-204-9298, e-mail: nautilus@nautilus.org website: http://www.nautilus.org/ )

2. 3rd Informal ASEAN Summit. Manila, November 28.

The recent informal summit of the ASEAN heads of government marked the third time that leaders of the ASEAN member countries invited attendance by their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea, resulting in what has come to be known as an ASEAN+3 Summit meeting. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung participated in their role as the leaders of ASEAN's three key economic partners. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad did not attend due to the general election in Malaysia, but sent a special representative in his place. The first ASEAN+3 Summit took place in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 on the event of ASEAN's 30th Anniversary, and the second followed in Hanoi in 1998. Although there were ASEAN+3 Summits in 1997 and 1998, the 1999 meeting was the first for which a joint declaration of all thirteen leaders was issued. The joint statement made by the leaders after the summit summarized the impetus behind the concept of cooperation stretching from Southeast to Northeast Asia: "[leaders] noted the bright prospects from enhanced interaction and tighter links in East Asia and recognized the fact that this growing interaction has helped increase opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with each other, thereby strengthening ties in areas essential for the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the region."

Business World (Leotes Marie T. Lugo, "Scheme may drop nonintervention stand of group on internal issues: ASEAN dabbles on addressing political issues," November 29, 1999) and The Daily Yomiuri (Kiyohisa Yoshida, "Asian leaders seek greater cooperation," Tokyo, November 29, 1999) discussed many of the highlights of the recent gathering. According to these sources, the thirteen leaders expressed the position that cooperation in trade and economic-related areas should be intensified. More notably, the group also included the political and security arenas amongst the areas for which higher levels of integration are sought. Their moves to extend political and security cooperation beyond the ten-member ASEAN grouping to include the three Northeast Asian states are seen as a complement to ASEAN Regional Forum initiatives, and as important steps to moving the entire East Asian region toward increasing integration.

To summarize the joint statement of the ASEAN+3 leaders, the following broad areas were noted as presenting desirable opportunities for regional cooperation: economics, monetary and financial matters, social and human resource development, scientific and technical development, culture and information strategies, developmental issues, political security and transnational concerns.

Perhaps the most ambitious of the proposed steps toward political and security integration is the recommendation that an "ASEAN Troika" be formed at the ministerial level to address issues of long-term peace and stability. Suggested members of the Troika remain unnamed, but Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam are viewed as likely members. The formation of such a Troika would be a noteworthy step away from the traditional Southeast Asian noninterventionist stance. An ad hoc grouping of three ASEAN members brought together during the Cambodian crisis would serve as the model for the Troika. Acehnese separatism in Indonesia would provide the most likely initial issue for examination by the grouping. It must be noted at this point, however, that summit participants made clear their view that Indonesian President Wahid should be backed in his efforts to ensure Indonesian territorial integrity.

During discussions of the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, leaders agreed to future consultations in the interest of working toward the adoption of a draft regional code of conduct approved by ASEAN at the ministerial level. China refused to adopt the code of conduct at the present time, but expressed its intention to halt aggressions in the disputed territory while deliberations continue.

Updates were given on the progress seen in Social Safety Net Program implementation, as well as the collaboration of ASEAN fora with various governmental, nongovernmental and international organizations. The leaders asked ASEAN ministers to explore further initiatives that would increase multilateral and international support to and participation in the programs (particularly those related to the Social Safety Net Programs). ASEAN leaders also noted their continuing pursuit of the goals of science and technology cooperation with China, private sector support from South Korea and Japanese contribution to human resource development.

The Southeast and Northeast Asian leaders agreed to continue to meet regularly, and reaffirmed their positive stance toward efforts of the East Asia Vision Group to create an agenda for long-term cooperation.

Business World (Romulo T. Luib and Leotes Marie T. Lugo, "ASEAN leaders agree on early duty-free trade," November 29, 1999) and Business Times (Al Labita, "ASEAN's bold steps spurred by global changes: Goh," Singapore, November 29, 1999) provided comments on the more strictly economic side of the summit. It was agreed amongst ASEAN members that goods produced in member economies will be allowed duty-free entry into other member states at an earlier date than originally agreed upon. The elimination of import duties for the six founding, and currently more advanced, members of ASEAN (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) has been moved from 2015 to 2010. The date for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam has been moved forward to 2015 from 2018. The original six retain the prerogative to exclude certain sectors from the agreement, but not beyond 2018. Certain ministers noted that this agreement came as a surprise, because their own deliberations regarding the ASEAN Free Trade Area concept were not as progressive.

Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong explained that bold steps in ASEAN economic initiatives result from changes in the global economy such as China's imminent World Trade Organisation membership, information technology advancements and the growing number of free trade areas. The Straits Times ("Asean redux," Singapore, December 2, 1999) reports that certain ASEAN officials indicated one reason for expediting plans for an ASEAN Free Trade Area was that ASEAN leaders saw China's imminent WTO entry as a positive development, but also recognized that China's increased attractiveness to investors would pose a challenge to ASEAN.

During the summit, the ASEAN leaders endorsed an ASEAN information technology initiative (e-ASEAN) stemming from the private sector. They approved financing for the project to link all member countries electronically in the interest of promoting global competitiveness and maintaining the reviving post-crisis economic outlook. Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi revealed an "Obuchi Plan" that will contribute 500 million dollars (US) to human resource development in East Asia. More sensitive topics such as the idea of a common currency and an Asian Monetary Fund were predominantly left for discussion at future summits.

Many sources commented on the broader significance of the 1999 ASEAN+3 Summit. According to Business World (November 29, 1999), Philippines President Estrada summarized the logic behind ASEAN's inclusion of China, Japan, and South Korea in its summit, explaining that now that the ASEAN foundation is strong, it is important to enhance ties with important neighbors. The South China Morning Post (Jake van der Kamp, "ASEAN trumpets, but North counts," November 30, 1999) contends that the ASEAN countries do not have significant economic significance on their own, and therefore benefit from closer association with the northern countries. The same observer suggests that the change in date for tariff reduction was the only substantial accomplishment of the meeting, and even this is tempered by the fact that only twenty percent of ASEAN members' trade is intra-ASEAN. The conclusion about the summit reached in the article: "It's not a big thing. But then neither is ASEAN. It's the North that counts these days." Business World (November 29, 1999) mentions a similar reserved perspective on the event from Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo L. Siazon. Siazon claims that although a framework is in place in the form of the ASEAN+3 events, the activation of a meaningful new forum for the discussion of regional political and security issues will not be immediate. He says, "Remember the ASEAN way: osmosis. Non-direct decisions .... In ASEAN, what you do is you repeat something several times and after everyone is comfortable with it, you give it a name." The Daily Yomiuri (November 29, 1999) also indicates that although greater regional dialogue and the accompanying benefits for trust and mutual understanding were promoted at the summit, it is important to note that specifics concerning particularly sensitive topics such as North Korean missile tests and the South China Sea disputes were carefully avoided. As noted, a similar approach was taken concerning economic issues.

The International Herald Tribune (Michael Richardson, "China, Japan and South Korea Agree With ASEAN on Trade Cooperation," Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, November 29, 1999) provides a more positive spin on the topic. The publication views the moves toward a broad framework for cooperation as a mechanism to both promote economic growth and ease political tensions. Although the summit declarations may have lacked detail, they supplied a foundation for more ambitious integration over the long term. Xinhua News Agency ("Chinese spokesman: ASEAN meeting boosts East Asian cooperation," Beijing, November 30, 1999) and Agence France Presse ("China Uses Regional Summit to Bolster Role as Key Ally," November 29, 1999) express similar viewpoints. According to the former, "The meeting sent a positive signal to the international community that the East Asian countries are willing to commit themselves to solidarity and cooperation, and to join hands for the new century ...." The latter source remarks that "Premier Zhu Rongji used a regional summit ... to bolster China's role as a key political ally committed to market reforms despite territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors."

Business World (Solita Collas-Monsod, "Calling a Spade...; ASEAN+3 Informal Summit: Mahathir Vindicated," November 30, 1999) observes that increases in ASEAN+3 cooperation are seen in some circles as a vindication of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's calls at the beginning of the decade for an East Asian Economic Caucus. At the time, countries that opposed such a grouping (particularly the United States) pressured ASEAN states to avoid forming such a bloc, and the result was a "watered-down" forum: APEC. This prompted Business World to make the reflection this year that "... Mahathir, while physically absent [from the summit], can rejoice that the East Asian Economic Caucus is actually coming to pass, although in another name: the ASEAN+3 Informal Summit ...." The article continues, "We are not talking about a social type event like APEC. The commitments made in ASEAN are binding - not just a best efforts type, with no real teeth, as in the much ballyhooed APEC."

In typical ASEAN fashion, the thirteen leaders at the 1999 ASEAN+3 Informal Summit in Manila remained silent on the details of specific sensitive issues, but this does not alter the fact that this year marked the third consecutive year that the countries came together, and that all expressed a desire to increase cooperation in both the economic and political and security realms.