Sat, 06 Mar 1999

RI can still take leading ASEAN role

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia remains a key member of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite its mounting domestic problems, Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar said on Friday.

"I don't think Indonesia's domestic problems seriously affect its role in ASEAN. Indonesia can still play a leading role," Hamid said after meeting President B.J. Habibie, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas and Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto.

Every ASEAN country, he said, has its own problems and "we should let them, with their own capabilities, tackle them".

"I think Indonesia will solve its internal problems," he added.

Hamid was referring to a statement made by Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday. At a dinner the prime minister said Indonesia's preoccupation with its internal problems could weaken its capacity to take a leading role in the regional grouping.

"Indonesia is a very important member of ASEAN, the largest member. If Indonesia is preoccupied with its own domestic problems, it means Indonesia is unable to lead ASEAN," Goh said.

Indonesia is one of the founding members of ASEAN. Other members of the association are Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Hamid acknowledged that ASEAN was facing a difficult time because of the regional economic crisis. But he said the regional organization would weather the turmoil to become stronger and more united.

The crisis, he believed, would not weaken the ASEAN spirit, which requires member countries to solve problems by consultation and negotiation while not interfering in each other's domestic affairs.

This is Hamid's first official overseas trip to ASEAN member countries since he assumed his post in January, replacing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, currently Malaysia's deputy prime minister. (bnt)