Carry on spirit of cooperation

ASEAN meetings in Bali should sincerely pursue Bandung principles for regional peace, stability and development

The 44th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting (AMM), Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC) and the 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) opened in Bali, Indonesia on Wednesday.

On the last days of these series of ministerial meetings, foreign ministers of ASEAN members and relevant countries will attend the Informal East Asia Summit Ad Hoc Consultations, ASEAN Plus Three (10+3) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the ARF.

At the annual gatherings, which will end on Saturday, delegations from 27 countries and international organizations are expected to exchange views on the development direction of the ARF, a kind of regional security mechanism in East Asia, the framework construction for regional cooperation as well as a wide range of international and regional issues of common concern.

Ahead of a series of East Asian Nations’ summit meetings and the informal Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit Meeting, due to be held at the end of this year, the ongoing ASEAN ministerial meetings are widely regarded as a political weathervane in the Asia-Pacific region and have thus drawn a great deal of attention.

While the parties concerned hold high expectations for the Bali gatherings, some dissonances, however, have emerged.

In disregard of the long-cherished principle among the nations and their unremitting efforts for promoting mutual trust and tackling non-traditional security issues, some have proposed that the sovereign dispute among relevant countries over the South China Sea be raised at the meetings. They have even proposed ASEAN countries forge an allied front against China.

Such proposals have exposed their attempt to transform the multilateral ASEAN forum into a venue for discussions of bilateral disputes and are thus in obvious violation of the ARF’s original commitment to maintaining regional peace and stability.

Given its complicated nature and that it involves many regional nations, the South China Sea issue needs time and patience to be resolved. It is China’s consistent stance that the dispute should be resolved or handled by the parties concerned through dialogue and in accordance with the norms and codes of international relations.

The attempt to discuss the issue at the ARF and to introduce the unrelated issue of so-called free maritime navigation will do no good in promoting a final settlement of the issue. It will also be unfavorable to the long-term and healthy development of the regional forum. It is also unfair to force other countries that have no sovereign claims over the South China Sea to waste time discussing an irrelevant topic.

Currently, countries are still battling different kinds of economic woes under the impacts of the global financial crisis. The lingering turbulences in West Asia and North African countries and the simmering sovereign debt crisis in some European countries pose a big challenge to global economic security and political stability.

In sharp contrast, the stability and development that East Asian countries have managed to maintain over the past years have vigorously driven the global economic recovery. Thus, East and Southeast Asian countries should value such a good political and economic development momentum and work harder for a better future rather than choose to make the region a political hotspot.

It should be a common responsibility of the 27 ARF members, especially its 20 Asian members, to maintain peace and stability, promote regional economic development and improve their people’s livelihoods. It also remains a common aspiration of the ongoing Bali gatherings.

It is in the common interests of all participating countries to confine the ARF ministerial meetings to their original agendas and prevent them from being sabotaged by some unrelated topics.

China harbors maximum goodwill and sincerity in promoting mutual trust and cooperation among regional countries and is pushing for the healthy development of the ARF mechanism.

More than five decades ago, the Bandung Conference was held in Indonesia, giving birth to the Bandung Spirit that has ever since been carried forward and popularized. The political wisdom and devotion shown by the politicians at the conference in seeking common ground while shelving disputes have been widely praised and followed by their successors.

There are good reasons to expect this year’s Bali ARF to carry forward the Bandung Spirit, adhere to unity and cooperation and make new contributions to peace and development in the region.

The author is a Beijing-based expert of international studies.

Source: China Daily

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