Southeast Asia and Australia forged a new friendship yesterday while Asia's top security forum struggled to stay relevant by expanding its mission from annual speechmaking to year-round diplomatic troubleshooting.
Australia pushed aside its past reservations about a nonaggression pact with ASEAN and signed a document of intent to join the treaty so it can be more solidly aboard efforts to create an Asian trade bloc to rival that of Europe and North America.
Australia's foreign minister joined counterparts from the 10-member ASEAN bloc and 13 other Asia-Pacific nations in Laos for the annual security-oriented ASEAN Regional Forum through tomorrow.
The ARF is Asia's top annual security forum, but it was getting second-tier attention this year from big players: Top diplomats from the US, Japan, China and India skipped all or part of this year's meeting, sending deputies instead.
"We see it as a coincidence. It's that they have some urgent business," said Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon. "We hope it's not a new trend."
Ministers at the conference planned to adopt a new doctrine today empowering the chairman of the forum to convene committees during brewing conflicts so that they can intervene with "preventive diplomacy," ARF spokesman M.C. Abad, Jr. said.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the change has been inevitable since the ARF was formed in 1994.
"I think after 10 years, it is the correct way of moving forward ... a natural extension," Syed Hamid said. "I think it is good that it is not just simply a talk shop."
Abad said forum officials were drafting a concept paper to elaborate on giving the ARF chair the enhanced role.
Foreign ministers from the two Koreas met at a hotel in Vientiane while six-party talks continued in Beijing on efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Australia originally balked at joining countries such as Russia, China and India in signing the ASEAN nonaggression pact, saying it could conflict with its other treaties, including with the US.
Southeast Asian nations had urged Australia to sign the accord to help dispel their concerns over Canberra's policy asserting it has the right to attack terrorists on foreign soil if they pose a threat to Australia. That policy -- announced by Prime Minister John Howard after the 2002 Bali bombings killed 88 Australians -- drew strong protests from Indonesia and Malaysia, whose then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad accused Howard of acting like a "white-man sheriff in some black country." At the six-day regional conference in Laos, foreign ministers from Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia all indicated that the issue was now defused.
"If the suggestion here is are we planning to invade our neighbors, that is a preposterous proposition," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said. "It's not an issue at all," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda agreed.
ASEAN made the pact a condition for Australia's invitation -- announced Tuesday -- for the inaugural East Asia summit in Malaysia in December among ASEAN's 10 core members plus China, Japan, South Korea and invitees New Zealand, India -- and now Australia.
The summit aims to create a trade bloc in a market encompassing half the world's population -- something Australia and the other invitees are eager to join. New Zealand, which did not share Australia's previous objections to the ASEAN pact, signed onto the treaty yesterday, as did Mongolia. Australia is to follow up its declaration of intent to join the treaty with ratification by its parliament and is expected to join by December.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
‘LEAST WE CAN DO’: The gesture was made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality that targeted minorities They are images that surprised and moved Americans: police officers taking a knee alongside protesters in the most widespread civil unrest to rock the US in decades — and in doing so embracing an anti-racism gesture denounced by US President Donald Trump. As Trump pushes for a crackdown on often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, police officers from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Texas, are making gestures of solidarity with demonstrators incensed at the latest case of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. “I took off the helmet and laid the batons down. Where do