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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

Japan eyes ASEAN maritime security forum expansion


MANILA — Tokyo intends to propose that the ASEAN maritime security forum be expanded to include Japan and the regional group's other dialogue partners.

Japan plans to raise the issue at next month's East Asian Summit in Bali, Indonesia, a diplomat from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in an interview Tuesday.

"Japan will . . . propose the idea and ask that we consider expanding the forum," the official said.

Tokyo's proposal makes it very clear that Japan is "open and flexible" over how an expanded forum would operate, the diplomat said, adding Japan believes ASEAN should remain at the "center" of the maritime security forum.

Officials from ASEAN's 10 members — the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar — currently attend meetings of the forum.

"Japan feels its initiative is time-bound and hopes it will be included in the chairman's statement at the East Asian Summit in Bali. The details will depend on how the proposal is received at the summit," the official said. "Japan wants to cooperate (with ASEAN nations) because it also depends on the sea (for fishing and trade routes)."

But the proposal could face heavy going as many ASEAN members are thought to have reservations. So far, only the Philippines has indicated it will support Japan's proposal, while Singapore has said it "will not block" the idea.

"The other ASEAN members were of the view that the ASEAN maritime security forum must be consolidated before discussions can begin on expanding it," the diplomat said.

"It's good that interest in maritime issues is coming to the fore at the East Asia Summit," the diplomat said, stressing the need for "a concerted global effort to stamp out piracy at sea, trafficking of persons and other transnational crimes."

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who is expected to bring up maritime security at the Bali summit, is hoping for "dynamic discussions" on the issue, according to Philippine documents.

"As an archipelago and a major maritime trading nation, maritime security in the South China Sea is of the utmost concern for the Philippines," the documents say. "For the Philippines, maritime security has three key critical aspects: ensuring unimpeded maritime commerce and navigation; resolving territorial disputes through constructive dialogue; and peaceful settlement based on respect for international law."

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