Wed, 24 Jul 1996

Alatas highlights threats to regional stability

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas warned again yesterday about possible armed conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region, saying instability could undermine its economic achievements.

Speaking at the opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, Alatas noted that unresolved territorial disputes and overlapping claims to sovereignty pose potential security challenges.

"If not properly managed and settled through peaceful means, these could well intensify and possibly erupt into armed conflicts," Alatas warned.

Alatas did not pinpoint any specific cases. However, it is said that the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea are potential flashpoints.

The overlapping claims in the South China Sea by China, Taiwan, and ASEAN countries such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are unresolved. ASEAN also groups Indonesia and Thailand.

Alatas suggested that such security problems be tackled with "wisdom, patience and a willingness to take into consideration one another's security concerns and interests."

He noted that the region has enjoyed relative stability over the last few years. Although the world recorded 31 major armed conflicts in 27 locations around the world last year, none of them were fought in the Asia-Pacific region, he noted.

Such stability has helped countries in the region to focus their attention and resources on the pursuit of national development without the distraction of violent conflict with other countries or critical security threats.

"To a large extent, therefore, the economic dynamism and progress that the region is enjoying today are the fruits of peace. Conversely, the buoyancy of these economies has also contributed to peace in the region," Alatas said.

The forum is a multilateral political and security consultative forum, involving ASEAN countries and observers and their dialogue partners.

Alatas said that considering the limits of the three-year-old forum, "it would be unrealistic to expect a young and fragile process such as this forum to be able to tackle at once all security challenges in the region."

To help tackle these, Alatas suggested that the forum adopt an evolutionary approach in three stages: namely the promotion of confidence-building measures, the development of preventive diplomacy and of approaches to conflict resolution.

"The idea is that the forum should not move too fast for those who want to go slow and nor too slow for those who want to go fast," Alatas said.

He said that the forum, which groups all major powers in the region, can facilitate the establishment of a regional order in which all countries in the region can live in peace and harmony and where their relationships will be guided by a common code of conduct.

"If such a regional order is achieved and I am optimistic that it can be achieved, it will not only ensure the stability and prosperity of the region but will also be a major contribution to a world of greater peace, justice and shared prosperity," he said. (rid)