ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
[Inception of the Forum]
With the end of the two-polar world structure, there was a general belief among countries in the Asia-Pacific region that it was necessary to proceed with multilateral security dialogue. Some specific ideas and proposals were even put forward by a number of countries. At the beginning of the year 1992, consensus was reached at the ASEAN Summit meeting on intensifying regional political and security dialogue. In July 1993, the 26th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting made a special arrangement of an informal dinner attended by 18 Foreign Ministers from 6 ASEAN member states, 7 dialogue partners, 3 observers and 2 guest countries of ASEAN. During the dinner, Ministers agreed to hold the first ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting (ARF) in Bangkok in 1994 to conduct informal consultations on regional political and security issues. From May 23 to 25, 1994, the ARF Senior Officials Meeting was held in Bangkok to make preparations for the ARF Ministerial Meeting. On July 25, 1994, the inaugural ARF Ministerial Meeting was held in Bangkok. At present, ARF is the most important governmental forum for multilateral security dialogue and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.
[Venue and Dates of the Forum]
ARF Ministerial Meeting convenes annually in ASEAN member countries in rotationary order. THE ARF Senior Officials Meeting is held prior to the Ministerial Meeting to make preparations for and submit report of suggestions to the Ministerial Meeting. From 1994 to 2001, six Ministerial Meetings were held respectively in Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Tailand and Vietnam.
In 1994, 18 participants attended the First ARF Ministerial Meeting, namely, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Laos, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe Union. India and Burma became members of ARF at the Third Ministerial Meeting in 1996, Mongolia was admitted to the ARF at the Fifth Ministerial Meeting in 1998, and North Korea was admitted to the ARF at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting in 2000. Today, ARF counts 23 members.
[Major Topics and Outcome]
Eight Ministerial Meetings have been held since the inception of THE ARF in 1994.
At the First Ministerial Meeting in 1994, Foreign Ministers exchanged views on the regional security situation and made positive comments on the significance of security dialogue and cooperation. In the Chairmans Statement, the ARF was defined as a high-level consultative forum aiming at conducting constructive dialogue on political and security issues in Asia-Pacific region, and carrying out cooperation in confidence-building measures, nuclear non-proliferation, peacekeeping, exchange of non-classified military information, maritime security and preventive diplomacy. It was also agreed that the ARF process would move along two tracks--formal and informal approach, which were also called Track I and Track II.
The Second ARF Ministerial Meeting in 1995 further discussed regional security issues. The Meeting agreed that ARF would continue to be a forum for open dialogue and consultation on regional political and security issues. The Chairmans Statement confirmed a three-stage agenda for cooperation in ARF: confidence building measures, development of preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts. It was also agreed to establish Intersessional Support Groups (ISG) on Confidence Building, in particular, dialogue on regional security perceptions and defense policy papers. The convening of Inter-sessional Meetings (ISMs) on Peacekeeping Operations, and ISMs Seminar on Search and Rescue Coordination and Cooperation were also agreed by the Meeting.
At the Third ARF Ministerial Meeting in 1996, Foreign Ministers exchanged views on specific regional issues of common concern focusing on situations in Burma, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Korean Peninsula and so on. The Chairmans Statement adopted the criteria and guiding principles for new participants admitting to the ARF as well as the following-on activities and cooperation programs. The Meeting accepted the offer made by China and the Philippines to co-host the ISG on CBMs in Beijing in March 1997.
Security situation in the Asia-Pacific region and the ARF process were major topics in discussion at the 4th ARF Meeting in 1997. The ARF participants candidly exchanged views on security concept, situation in Cambodia and Burma, US-Japan alliances and the Korean Peninsula. Foreign Ministers highly appreciated the positive role ARF had played in enhancing mutual understanding and trust, maintaining regional stability during the past 3 years since its inception. The Chairmans Statement pointed out that while maintaining the focus of ARF on CBMS, the overlaps between confidence-building measures and preventive diplomacy would be identified and addressed.
The financial crisis in East Asia and the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan became focal points at the 5th ARF Meeting. It was widely considered by Foreign Ministers that Asia was entering a period of comprehensive and profound economic field and its political and social implications became more and more prominent. The Meeting appreciated the Chinese commitment to maintaining the value of its currency and its positive role in maintaining regional economic stability in Asia. Foreign Ministers expressed deep regret over the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, and requested that Indian and Pakistan abide by the relative resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and accede to relevant international treaties. The Chairmans Statement indicated that the ARF should further its discussion on confidence-building measures and its exploration on the four proposals on the overlap between CBMs and preventive diplomacy. The four proposals were an enhanced role for the ARF Chairman; the development of a register of experts or eminent persons among the ARF participants; Annual Security Outlook; and voluntary background briefing on regional security issues. The release of Chinese defense white paper Chinas National Defense during the Meeting won a broad appreciation from all sides.
At the 6th ARF Ministerial Meeting, Foreign Ministers focused their discussion on security situation in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia, transnationl issues and the future direction of ARF. The Ministers believed that, generally speaking, the situation in Southeast Asia was stable, but attention should be given to the issues of South China Sea, Burma and East Timor. Parties concerned elaborated their respective positions in principal on South China Sea. ARF participants expressed their concern over situation in the Korean Peninsula and called for parties concerned to take concrete steps for the maintenance of peace and stability in Northeast Asia. They also hoped to enhance international cooperation so as to deal with the increasingly complicated transnaitonal issues. With regard to the future direction of the ARF, Foreign Ministers confirmed the positive progress achieved by ARF in the past five years. They also agreed to initiate the discussion on the concept, definition and principles of preventive diplomacy in Asia-Pacific region as well as the specific means and procedures to enhance the role of the ARF chair. In the Chairmans Statement, Ministers expressed their deep regret over the tragic incident involving the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in early May, and extended their sympathy and condolences to the Chinese people and relatives of the victims.
The seventh ARF Ministerial Meeting in 2000 mainly discussed such issues as security situation in Asian- Pacific region, the impact of globalization on regional security and the future direction of ARF. The Ministers believed that, generally speaking, the situation in Southeast Asia was stable. More attention was paid to the influence and impact of economic globalization on regional security. ARF participants expressed their satisfaction towards the development of ARF, and spoke highly of the role it played in promoting dialogue and understanding. They decided to empower ARF to take confidence building measures and continue to discuss concepts and principles of preventive diplomacy.
The participants of the eighth ARF Ministerial Meeting exchanged extensive opinions on regional situation and issues of common concern. They conducted full discuss on the future direction of ARF and passed three documents of "concepts and principles of preventive diplomacy","enhancing the role of the ARF chair" and "the scope of functions and powers of experts or eminent persons among the ARF participants". The participants maintain, on general, the situation in Southeast Asia was stable,but the negative factors can't be ignored. They also fully recognized affirmed the progess ARF had made since its establishment, highly evaluated its role in promoting regional security dialogue and cooperation. Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan noted in the meeting that China advocated for the dialogue and cooperation in non- traditional security field gradually conducted by ARF and was ready to participate and play a due role with an active attitude. Other members made positive responses, hoping ARF can carry out substantive cooperation in such transnational crimes as drug dealing and smuggling.