Thu, 04 Aug 1994

Alatas hopeful ASEAN will admit Vietnam in 1995

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas said that he hoped Vietnam will be formally admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the middle of next year.

"I believe that when we gather for the next ministerial meeting in Brunei, Vietnam can be formally admitted as a full member," Alatas told reporters yesterday before a cabinet meeting at the Bina Graha presidential office.

A similar optimism was echoed by his Vietnam counterpart Nguyen Manh Cam in an interview published in Hanoi yesterday, Reuters reported.

Alatas said that Vietnam still has to fulfill a number of requirements and go through a number of procedures which are routine and not imposed as a condition of its membership.

Brunei, which joined the group in 1984, also had to go through the same process, he commented.

Vietnam must also study a number of ASEAN agreements which it would have to participate in, including the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), he added.

ASEAN was founded on Aug. 8, 1967, bringing together five non- communist Southeast Asian countries. Now made up of Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the group has since flourished to become one of the world's most successful regional organizations.

Vietnam, now also moving toward a free market economy, has been taking part in ASEAN'S annual foreign ministerial meetings for a number of years. At last month's meeting in Bangkok, Hanoi formally asked to be admitted as a full member.

The ministers are scheduled to meet again in Brunei in July 1995.

Earlier objections to admitting Vietnam were based on fears that the state of the Vietnamese economy could slow down the progress made by ASEAN countries as they are now moving to establish a free trade area under AFTA. These concerns now appear to have been eased.

Southeast Asia

ASEAN leaders envisage that the organization will one day incorporate all 10 countries in Southeast Asia, including Laos and Cambodia, and also Myanmar. Laos has also been attending ASEAN talks as an observer while Cambodia and Myanmar have attended as guests.

Alatas said yesterday that the delay in admitting Vietnam was due to economic considerations and not at all political.

"From the beginning, it has always been ASEAN's intention to cover all of Southeast Asia. The entry of Vietnam is a step towards that objective ... Hopefully Cambodia and Laos follow suit."

Meanwhile in Hanoi, Cam said that Vietnam's progress in preparing for membership and also talks between Hanoi and an ASEAN committee would determine when it would join.

"In their discussions with us, ASEAN countries have all agreed to try to help Vietnam become the seventh ASEAN member next year," he told the English-language Vietnam Courier weekly.

Vietnam had to study the workings and procedures of ASEAN and its committees, Cam said. Among other preparations, it needed more English-speaking staff to take part in ASEAN meetings, he added. (emb)