Efforts by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, to formalise an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) consensus on the East Sea issue have been rewarded with an agreement on basic principles.
Taking the role of mediator after ASEAN failed to issue a joint communique at the end of its 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh last Friday, Natalegawa made a tour of Southeast Asian countries in a bid to restore the credibility of ASEAN and seek a common position to solve the East Sea issue. He has met with foreign ministers in the Philippines and Viet Nam, before travelling on to Cambodia yesterday and Malaysia today.
Hor Namhong told reporters he hoped to announce the bloc's joint position today, pending "approval from all ASEAN foreign ministers".
ASEAN is on track to remain a united bloc. Last week, for the first time in its 45-year history, the 10-member regional grouping failed to issue a communique because of differing positions on the East Sea issue.
Member states exerted efforts to find suitable wording to reflect their common interests and had many chances to reach a consensus during discussions of the joint communique, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh said after the summit.
Diplomats from the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, also expressed their regrets for the failure to issue a joint communique, agreeing that the body had missed a chance to be acting as one going forward on issues relating to the justified interests of its members.
The failure to issue a communique casts doubts on the progress being made towards building a political and security community by the year 2015, the body's express target.
The question has become whether the Phnom Penh failure is just a "hiccup" and whether "efforts to find a solution to the issue would continue", Pitsuwan told reporters after the summit.
Following a long period of mutual suspicion, ASEAN has become a strong community which has worked closely in the fields of politics, trade, culture and development based on fundamental principles of peace, security and stability, non-interference, and consensus. The group has been on its way to playing a central role in resolving the issues related to regional and international security, boosting economic development in the region, and enhancing dialogue with other countries and international organis-ations throughout the world.
In striving to create an ASEAN community by 2015, the ASEAN has faced such challenges as the economic development gap between member countries and the differing positions of some members on bilateral issues, such as the border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand over disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple.
In the ASEAN Charter signed in 2007, the group states its principles to include an emphasis on common values in the spirit of "unity in diversity". The national emblem of Indonesia also carries the words "unity in diversity". For over four decades, ASEAN countries have developed, and coped with many challenges, in this spirit.
The latest efforts by the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Cambodia has demonstrated their sense of responsibility in respecting the interests of each member country, as well as those of the group as a whole. Viet Nam has long adhered to these principles in both word and deed.
ASEAN's future decisions and actions need to include efforts towards building a Code of Conduct for the East Sea (COC) that will help secure peace, stability and security in the region. — VNS