Tue, 29 Jul 2003

AASROC a forum to learn from each other: Hassan

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

The Asia Africa Sub-Regional Organization Conference (AASROC) seeks to identify problems of maintaining relations between two regions and finding a strategic partnership in the current world.

Citing the common experiences of dealing with conflicts and improving economic growth, host country Indonesia underlined the importance of both regions to learn from each other.

"We have similar experiences with conflicts, disintegration problems and other security issues; however, we noted that the African continent shares a common measure in supporting each other for conflict resolution," Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Monday.

Speaking at the press briefing following the opening ceremony of the AASROC senior officials meeting, Hassan said Asian countries could learn from how African nations established their sub-regional peacekeeping force to cope with the conflict situation there.

"We in Asia have never had such a mechanism. For instance, in dealing with the separatist movement in Aceh, we had to ask for bilateral support from the Philippines and Thailand," he said.

On the other hand, Africa could learn from Asia in improving their economic growth, as Asia had previously maintained an average annual growth of seven percent for several decades.

"We could explore a lot of economic cooperation with Africa, as the region is currently concentrating more on economic growth," he said.

The two-day ministerial meeting, which opens on Tuesday, will serve as the preparatory meeting for the 50th commemoration of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, the historic event that birthed the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War era.

The preparatory meeting is aimed at arriving at a workable political and economic partnership as a new step toward establishing a formal bridge between the two regions.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri, trying to revive the vision of her father, Indonesia's first president Sukarno and one of the founders of the original conference, is to take the initiative of rebuilding the Asia-Africa bridge that had collapsed under the regions' respective domestic problems.

The current global problems of transnational crimes, terrorism and communicable diseases is also on the agenda.

The idea to hold the AASROC came under tight scrutiny as the two regions were dependent on developed countries, and many of the participating countries are currently facing severe domestic conflicts.

"At this meeting, at the very least we could find a common position to create peace in the regions and put down potential conflicts, and it should be something more than just an expression of solidarity," Hassan said.

Ministers from 15 countries and deputy foreign ministers from 19 countries have traveled here for the AASROC, which will be opened by Megawati at the Merdeka building, the venue of the 1955 Asia-African Conference.

The Dutch colonial building was fully restored for the gathering. Flags of the participating countries have been flying since the weekend, enlivening the areas surrounding the building.

A museum that had been abandoned for decades on Jl. Asia Africa was also renovated in time for the ministers' visit.

The foreign ministry's director general for Asia, Pacific and Africa, Makarim Wibisono, said the main priorities of the meeting was to identify those problems that had hampered the cooperation between the two regions, and to prepare a document of strategic partnership, slated to be launched in 2005.

"The spirit back in 1955 of solidarity, friendship and cooperation between the two regions remain relevant, as currently, we are also facing new challenges that should be addressed through cooperative measures," he said.