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ASEAN needs to improve crisis management capacity —former Indonesian minister

SINGAPORE - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should develop its crisis management capacity given the issues that affect the region, former Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. Marty Natalegawa said.

“In any given time of the year, things happen. You can’t wait until April of a given year for leaders to meet because North Korea happens, South China Sea happens, India-China happens. And ASEAN is silent until we meet for the next proper meeting,” Natalegawa explained during the 2nd ASEAN Media Forum last Friday.

He was particularly disappointment that ASEAN did not make a statement when North Korea threatened to strike Guam.

“That is not too far away from our region and yet we, as ASEAN, have to wait for summits to be held, for ministers to formally be convened to be able to say a few words with senior officials,” he pointed out.

And now that South and North Korea have agreed to talk peace, ASEAN needed to take the opportunity to push for the latter’s denuclearization.

“When the two Koreas met, at the declaration, they reaffirmed their commitment not to use force against one another. Now ASEAN, I think, should speak eloquently and forcefully to lock this process up, to make sure that we are not simply a bystander,” said Natalegawa.

Given that North Korea would be attending the ASEAN regional meeting this July, the Southeast Asian group needed to immediately start working on including the Korean peninsula issue during this meeting.

“Work must be done now between May and July to make sure the ASEAN regional forum does not only become a convening opportunity, but actually to regionalize, widen the fragile evidence of peacetaking route in the Korean peninsula,” he explained.

“We already have the Bali Principles of 2011 where we speak of non-use of force among East Asia summit countries. This is ASEAN doing its beat, extrapolating it’s own experience with the wider region, becoming net contributor to the security of our region.”

Pandora’s box

Natalegawa, who served as foreign minister from 2009 to 2014, said ASEAN could use the East Asia Summit in November as na opportunity to improve its crisis management capacity.

“In the East Asia Summit, ambassadors are in Jakarta, they could meet every couple of weeks on a regular basis to discuss regional issues and they can elevate it to the higher level if they so wish to ministers’ or leaders’ level,” he said.

Natalegawa emphasized that ASEAN needed be more than a conference or meeting organizer if it wanted to be relevant in the next 50 years.

“ASEAN has the capacity, the power," he insisted. "There must be something more than having cultural performances or having an ASEAN summit where the world’s attention is not on ASEAN itself, but on the participants’ behavior at that summit.”

However, depite his wish that  ASEAN concretely manifest what it wanted to achieve in these meetings, Natalegawa was against revising the ASEAN Charter.

“I hesitate to open up this potential Pandora’s box, because I don’t think the problem lies in the instrument, in the modalities, in the agreements. It lies in their implementation. It is a political problem, not a legal problem,” he argued.

“I have a feeling that the type of Charter that you may end up with may not necessarily mean progressive development, it can mean regression, certainly in the area of human rights. This relates to the whole issue of consensus.”

The Philippines is one of the five founding members of ASEAN, which was established in 1967. The others are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

ASEAN expanded its membership in 1984 when Brunei Darussalam joined; Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. — DVM/RSJ, GMA News