Wed, 24 Jul 1996

ARF sets criteria for new membership to the forum

JAKARTA (JP): ASEAN and its dialog partners agreed yesterday to restrict future membership of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to sovereign states with a direct impact on peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

But they stressed that the formulation of the criteria is not designed to shut out any particular country but rather to ensure that the ARF is participated in by selected states.

Indonesia's Director General of ASEAN Affairs, Rahardjo Djamtomo, told The Jakarta Post that these criteria would prevent too many nations participating in the ARF and bogging it down.

However he said there was no specific number for what ARF ministers term in their communique a "manageable level".

"What's clear is that it mustn't grow into anything as big as the UN, but neither should it be too small. The main thing is that it can still be well managed," Rahardjo said.

The ARF was established by ASEAN as a multilateral consultative forum on security issues.

Apart from ASEAN, the members are Australia, Canada, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, the United States and the European Union.

India and Myanmar are participating for the first time.

During the day-long third ARF meeting here yesterday ministers agreed to adopt the criteria for new participants in the forum.

The ministers further agreed that the forum must expand gradually. It was determined that new participants would be admitted by common consensus and that all ASEAN members would also be participants in the ARF.

Rahardjo Djamtomo stressed the importance of a potential to contribute to the region.

"The ARF is designed to promote regional security. We are not trying to interfere with security, but we believe that by establishing security in the region we will contribute to the overall security of the world," he said.

Several countries such as Britain, France, Pakistan and Kazakhstan have applied to join.

These applications come amid grumblings of discontent in ASEAN over the European Union's (EU) membership of the forum at the annual meeting taking place this year in Jakarta.

Quoting diplomatic sources, Reuters reported that the applications were not intended to replace the EU's seat in the forum.

Separately when asked about Britain and France's admission, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas at a press conference said this would need further consideration.

"This matter was brought to the meeting but since we have just agreed on criteria we'll have to discuss it further," Alatas said.

Alatas explained that the reasoning behind their request was the fact that three of the five nuclear powers were already in the ARF and that therefore it would be logical for Britain and France to also have a seat in the ARF, separate to that of the European Union.(pwn/mds)