KUALA LUMPUR — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could soon become a more lean and efficient organisation, as regional leaders gather in Kuala Lumpur today to take stock of an ambitious plan to create a common community by this year and discuss post-2015 strategies to improve the group’s working methods.
Specific issues to be discussed include streamlining the number of ASEAN meetings, reviewing the modalities of meetings with dialogue partners and strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat.
Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam told journalists yesterday that the leaders would decide whether to cut down the number of summit meetings from two to one every year. “We have more than 1,000 meetings in ASEAN every year, many of them at the sectoral (officials) level,” said Mr Shanmugam, who spoke to the media after attending Ministerial-level preparatory meetings for today’s summit.
“We need to see in the context of modern technology, which of these meetings can be cut down. For the leaders, if they think that there is no need to meet twice every year, can it be just one meeting,” he said.
If the leaders agree today to reduce the frequency of summit meetings to once every year — Singapore has played an active role in the discussions — the change could take place as soon as next year, when Laos takes over from Malaysia as the grouping’s chair. However, the 2007 ASEAN Charter, adopted by the bloc as part of the process of moving towards a more rules-based organisation, stipulates that two summit meetings will be held every year.
As an interim measure, Laos has proposed holding one summit meeting as two back to back events so that the Charter would not be violated while legal experts explore what are the implications and solutions, added Mr Shanmugam. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be attending the meeting in Malaysia.
Besides streamlining the number of meetings, ASEAN leaders will also deliberate on how to improve the modalities of meetings they have with their 10 dialogue partners (Australia, China, Canada, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States).
The current arrangement is for all 10 ASEAN leaders to give their national statements in turn, followed by the dialogue partner responding, resulting in limited interaction between the parties in the usually one-hour long dialogue partner summits held once every year. A proposal has been put forth for ASEAN to be represented by a troika — the past, present and future member states in charge of coordinating the relationship with the particular dialogue partner — to address the dialogue partners collectively, so as to free up more time for free flowing discussions.
The 26th ASEAN summit, the first to be held under Malaysia’s chairmanship of the group this year, will also take stock of the bloc’s progress toward meeting its self-imposed target to be an integrated and cohesive community by Dec 31. So far, more than 80 per cent of the action lines in the blueprint documents guiding ASEAN’s regional integration efforts have been met.
Three declarations to make ASEAN more people-centred, promote tolerance and strengthen resilience to disasters and climate change — are likely to be adopted during the summit. Later in the day, the leaders will adjourn to Langkawi for an exchange of views on geopolitical issues affecting the region including combating the Islamic State and developments in the South China Sea.