Indonesian foreign minister says Asean will remain united in face of China

Indonesian foreign minister says bloc does not want to be dominated by a single country, and unity is in the interests of all parties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 4:50am

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says Southeast Asian nations will stay united even as China and other major powers take a greater role in the region.

Natalegawa told the Sunday Morning Post on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations does not want to be dominated by a single country and that unity of the bloc serves the interest of all players in the region.

"China must also realise that a strong and united Asean is in its interest," Natalegawa said. "Security is a common good. If you want to have sustained security, prosperity and stability, then everyone must benefit from it."

Natalegawa's comments came after China elevated its ties with Indonesia and Malaysia to "comprehensive strategic partnerships" during state visits to the two countries by President Xi Jinping .

Immediately after Xi wraps up his tour on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang will go to Brunei for the East Asia Summit, followed by trips to Thailand and Vietnam.

The manoeuvres were widely seen as an attempt by Beijing to offset the United States' influence in the region and gain leverage over Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Sino-Philippine ties have deteriorated in recent years because of the dispute.

Natalegawa said the elevation of Sino-Indonesian ties from a strategic partnership was a "reflection of China's positive contribution to the region's peace, stability and prosperity".

But he said it would benefit no one for Asean to be divided as it was during the cold war. He also said Asean welcomed increased involvement by Japan, which has been engaged in its own territorial dispute with China.

Asean does not see things in a "zero sum" relationship that only one nation can become prominent, Natalegawa said.

"Our region is sufficiently open and inclusive to ensure that all these countries can contribute in a positive way," he said.

Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean former diplomat and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said a united Asean ensures that the region will not be dominated by a major power.

"A divided Asean provides opportunities for other powers to come," he said.

Zhang Mingliang , a specialist in Southeast Asian affairs at Jinan University, said China was often seen as dividing the bloc by singling out the Philippines and counterbalancing other major powers in the region.

He said Asean's stress on inclusiveness and unity was a tactic to give the bloc the upper hand in dealing with relations with major powers.