Cambodia stepped down from its yearlong chairmanship of Asean last week, having hosted a second round of high-level meetings without a security incident.
By the time journalists returned from the last news conference Friday morning, the Ministry of Information staff had nearly finished packing the media center.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell had left the day before and the last foreign ministers of the 23 participating countries were getting ready to depart. Security guards, still at their posts, were starting to relax.
A week that began on June 16 with the Asean Ministerial Meeting, followed on Wednesday by the Asean Regional Forum and the Post Ministerial Conference on Thursday, was marked by occasional confusion but no noticeable glitches.
The pressure now is on Indonesia as chair of Asean and the ARF to plan October’s Asean Summit, and to act on positions taken last week by Asean and ARF members on Burma and North Korea.
Asean’s ministers urged Burma last week to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi—a departure from its non-interference policy, which goes back to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed at the first Asean meeting in 1976.
However significant, Asean and the ARF—consisting of Asean’s 10 members, its 10 dialogue-partner countries and three other countries—are not going to give up their cautious approach toward dealing with regional security conflicts.
Asked whether the Forum should take a more active mediation role, Yashwant Sinha, minister of external affairs for India, said that only with the consent of all parties should the Forum get involved.
During his news conference, Blas Ople, secretary of foreign affairs for the Philippines, was at pains to explain how Asean’s “constructive engagement” toward Burma was in line with its non-interference policy.
The attack on Suu Kyi on May 30 was just one more incident in a deteriorating situation.
“There is now such a level of confrontation between the government and the opposition that development activities are really suffering,” said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UN Development Program, who attended the Post Ministerial Conference in Phnom Penh.
The UNDP works directly with communities in Burma, and not through the government, he said.
“But even in doing it that way, the politics in the country is more and more impacting our ability to operate. Burma is a country with just really dramatic development problems—growing poverty, and HIV/AIDS crisis, a series of problems that just can’t be left unaddressed,” Brown said.
As expected, North Korea was a major topic of discussions, with participants urging its government to give up nuclear arms.
“This is not a bilateral question between the North Koreans and the United States,” said Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham. “It’s a regional security issue, and it’s a multilateral problem because the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty…is at stake.”
Asean members signed a Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in December 1997 in Bangkok, and are trying to get other countries in the region to sign it.
During the week, a number of agreements were concluded. Asean and the UNDP signed a Partnership Facility; the UN organization will provide $1.4 million to help Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma get their trade and investment laws up to international standards, Brown said.
The Mekong Institute was turned over to China, which chairs the Greater Mekong Sub-region program.
The institute opened in 1997 with the support of Thailand, New Zealand and other international donors, Director Yan Flint said. It has trained about 1,300 government officials from countries in the Mekong Basin, including Cambodia, to help them develop fast and well, he said.
Asean and Russia signed their first political agreement “for peace and security, prosperity and development in the Asia-Pacific Region.”
Russia will co-chair the ARF’s meeting on counterterrorism and transnational crime next year.