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The Foreign Ministers of the 10-member ASEAN began their annual meetings in Hanoi on July 22 for two days of formal talks before broadening their discussions to include Japan, China and South Korea and then dialogue partners in the 23-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia's key security grouping. The ARF will gather United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, Chris Patten, and Louis Michel. Only one notable invitee has snubbed the event: North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun says he is too busy to attend, dashing hopes for a resumption of high-level dialogue with the United States and South Korea that could have allowed Vietnam to claim a peace-broker role.--The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on August 8, 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand with the signing of the Bangkok declaration by the five original member nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand). In 1984, Brunei was admitted as the sixth member and in 1995, Vietnam also joined ASEAN; Laos and Burma/Myanmar became members in 1997. Cambodia joined in 1999. ASEAN countries have a combined gross domestic product of Euro 550 billion, but large disparities among them. ASEAN is the fourth largest trading region or entity in the world and, with a population of 400 million people, is one of the largest regional markets.--The ARF - an opportunity for ASEAN countries to discuss security with other regional players including China, the US and Australia - has in the past also proved disappointing in its inability to make any tangible progress in confronting real problems, or even to agree on a definition of "preventive diplomacy". Although Vietnam said it would use its tenure as ASEAN chairman to make progress on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and the disputed Spratly Islands, ASEAN and China have not yet reached a deal. The ARF is expected only to adopt preparatory documents allowing for eventual transition from a current stage of "confidence-building" to "preventive diplomacy. The Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam; parts of them are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines; in 1984, Brunei established an exclusive fishing zone, which encompasses Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands, but has not publicly claimed the islands.Burma's failure to promote democracy and human rights will also be tackled. The EU is particular keen to see progress in this: last December, Burmese officials pleaded with the EU to re-open diplomatic ties when the two sides met at an ASEAN Ministerial. The dialogue was suspended in 1997 when Burma was admitted to ASEAN despite its military regime - seen as anti-democratic, and with a poor human rights record. But the EU - backed by human rights groups like Amnesty International - says it cannot relaunch formal relations while torture remains a key instrument of repression by the military government in Rangoon.The current upheavals in Indonesia have seen Abdurrahman Wahid, who became President in 1999, declare martial law just as Parliament was beginning impeachment proceedings against him. Indonesia's parliament promptly stripped Mr Wahid of the presidency and named his deputy Megawati Sukarnoputri President. The power switch by the Indonesian legislature was applauded by foreign leaders - including the EU's Belgian Presidency - as a legitimate end to months of political instability. However, the issue is not quite settled as Mr Wahid has refused to leave the presidential palace or resign and insisted he was still Indonesia's constitutional leader.The ARF was created in 1994, and the EU is a full member. The EU admits that talks on military and defence have yet to take off, but hopes that the development of EU Defence and Security Policy will enable the EU to boost its profile on these issues. ASEAN itself has suffered badly in recent years from its seeming inability to react to regional crises and its determination to cling to its long-standing principle of "non-interference" in other members' internal affairs. Countries like Thailand and the Philippines have recently pushed for the group to become more active in confronting thorny domestic and regional issues, but they have met resistance from more authoritarian regimes. ASEAN Secretary-General Rudolfo Severino warned on July 23 that the image of the region had sunk to an all-time low and said wide-ranging reforms were needed to boost its appeal to investors. Mr Severino said south-east Asia was today viewed as "a region whose economy has been weakened, its politics unstable, a region in disarray and rudderless."--Relations between the EU and ASEAN are based on a 1980 Co-operation Agreement with the first seven members. It was recently extended to Laos and Cambodia, but the EU cannot agree to negotiate an extension of this agreement to Burma/Myanmar as long as Rangoon's democracy and human rights policy fails to make progress. In 1999, the EU was ASEAN's second largest export market and the third largest trading partner after Japan and the United States. EU exports to ASEAN were estimated at Euro 30.5 billion in 1998 (third export market), up from Euro 8.9 billion in 1987. EU imports from ASEAN were valued at Euro 52 billion in 1998. The economic crisis has had a serious impact on this trend and, in 1998, EU exports to ASEAN fell 40% producing a Euro 21 billion deficit for Europe in 1999.--
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Jul 25, 2001

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