SBY wants more talks after ASEAN failure
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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his disappointment over Indonesia’s failure to help settle disputes in the South China Sea during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting (AMM).
Yudhoyono held an impromptu press conference at the Presidential Office on Monday, only to express his concerns over the failure of ASEAN members to come up with a communiqué during the AMM in Phnom Penh, Cambodia — the first in the organization’s 45-year history.
“This has never happened since the ASEAN was established. I am disappointed and really concerned, this could lead to misperceptions or false representation of ASEAN. The media has said ASEAN has broken apart and there was no longer unity in the region,” he said.
“I disagree. ASEAN has not broken up and it remains in unity in spite of the ongoing problems that need to be resolved.”
The Presidential Office convened the press conference after Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa briefed Yudhoyono on the fall out from the failed ASEAN meeting.
Indonesia is one of ASEAN’s founding members and handed over the 2012 chairmanship to Cambodia. Yudhoyono had repeatedly expressed his confidence about Indonesia’s growing international influence, including helping to resolve conflicts in the region.
Indonesia has been considered as having significant clout in the region, particularly during its last chairmanship period in 2011.
The country has been seen as one of key players in the democratization process in Myanmar as well as in the settlement of the conflicts on the Cambodia-Thailand border.
When it comes to South China Sea disputes, however, Indonesia, which appears to be playing a mediator role, has faced insurmountable obstacles in trying to reconcile differences among many ASEAN member states.
The 2012 AMM, which wrapped up on July 13, was the first occasion when ASEAN failed to produce a joint communiqué.
“Last year, we managed to help settle Myanmar and Thailand-Cambodia issues and all worked well. This time, the portfolio to handle [the South China Sea] issue has not been managed as expected,” Marty said.
“We had tried to bridge views of different interests. Since the beginning, we realize this would not be without risk. The possibility of not resulting in an immediate outcome was always on the table. Yet staying idle and doing nothing would create much greater risk,” he said.
Although Indonesia is no longer the ASEAN chair, Yudhoyono has made an initiative to play a greater role in the region.
“The absence of mutual views on the South China Sea poses potential disturbances for the region. We can’t be left like this for too long,” he said.
Marty also said that Yudhoyono has instructed him to travel to all ASEAN countries and try to build consensus.
“I was told by the President to continue seeking consensus by meeting and communicating with my ASEAN counterparts one by one in their respective home countries. Tomorrow I will fly to Manila to meet the Philippine foreign minister, then to Hanoi [Vietnam], Phnom Penh [Cambodia], Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia] and Singapore,” he added.
Marty said that conditions could still improve.
“I hope we still can reach a form of mutual understanding on the South China Sea, at least before the upcoming ASEAN Summit in November,” he said.
ASEAN countries, which had been involved in the South China Sea row, including the Philippines, Vietnam and ASEAN chair Cambodia.
The Philippines and Vietnam insisted that their recent clashes with China should be mentioned and included in the final communiqué.
Last April, Chinese and Philippine government ships were in a confrontational mode over the Scarborough Shoal. Chinese maps refer to this string of sandbanks as Huayang.
Cambodia, meanwhile, was considered to be backing China’s interests.
Marty refused to comment when queried about the row and said that the dispute was over details in the communiqué.
“There were indeed some countries which insisted to include details of the disputed bloc in the communiqué while other countries refused to do so,” he said.
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