The independent resource on global security

4. South-East Asia and the new Asia-Pacific security dialogue




In 1993 Asia-Pacific witnessed the creation of an ASEAN Regional Forum,
designed to eventually encompass all the states of the region. The year also
saw the first informal Asia-Pacific summit meeting, held in Seattle,
Washington, following a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC). A key role in these developments was played by South-East Asia, a
subregion of growing economic importance, relative peace and largely
co-operative international relations, particularly its most economically and
politically buoyant segment, the six states—Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—which form the Association of South-East
Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The nascent regional dialogue that has emerged in Asia-Pacific in the past
decade, in both the economic and security areas, is a welcome development for
global security. As the fastest growing region of the world in economic and
trade terms, it is heartening that Asia-Pacific is moving towards discussion of
its region-wide security problems in a co-operative framework rather than
towards using the weapons which it is increasingly able to afford.

Although the original ideas on regionalist co-operative structures for
Asia-Pacific came from the region's periphery—Australia, Canada and the Soviet
Union—it is ASEAN that has provided most of the momentum of the past few
years. In contrast, North-East Asia, lacking subregional structures and plagued
by major continuing security challenges, has been largely passive—with the
important and relatively recent exception of Japan.

While it remains to be seen how effective the new ASEAN Regional Forum and
future APEC summit meetings will be in helping to create true regionalism, in
producing practical regional security benefits or in tackling specific security
problems, the fact that the states of Asia-Pacific are developing a `habit of
dialogue' is in itself no mean feat.