Asian forum moves to bolster security response
MANILA, Philippines, May 23 (Associated Press) -- Asia's largest security forum, which includes the US, the European Union and China, is forming a quick-reaction group to respond to outbreaks of war and political crises, diplomats said Wednesday. The move by the 26-member ASEAN Regional Forum is considered a crucial step in deflecting criticism that it is an annual talk-shop incapable of dealing with security threats and conflicts in the volatile Asia-Pacific region. Senior diplomats meeting in Manila this week are finalizing the creation of the so-called "Friends of the Chair," a four-member ministerial-level group that can be rapidly convened when security threats erupt, said M. C. Abad Jr., a diplomat who helps oversee the forum. The group would gather facts and recommend steps that could immediately be taken when ARF is not in session, Abad said. It will be composed of ARF's current, incoming and past chairmen, positions held only by foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and one minister from outside the region, he said. "This is a step beyond dialogue and confidence building into addressing real security challenges," Abad told The Associated Press. The arrangements for the crisis-response group are expected to be approved by ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Manila in August, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said. Founded in 1994, ARF has been hobbled by the diversity of its members and its consensus-based decision making. Since its birth, it has focused on building trust among its members through dialogue and confidence-building measures. Every year, ARF brings together Asian and Western powers, providing an important forum for discussing an array of threats from North Korea's nuclear ambitions to al-Qaeda-linked terror threats in Southeast Asia. The 10 ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Their dialogue partners in ARF are Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, East Timor, the EU, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, South Korea, and the US.