ASEAN ministers to discuss ways to revitalize 50-year-old regional bloc

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ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta.

BORACAY, Philippines, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — Southeast Asian foreign ministers are to meet this week in this beach island of Philippines to discuss ways to revitalize the 50-year-old, 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc amid the various challenges confronting the region and the world.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay will chair the ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat on Tuesday in Boracay, an island in central Philippines famous for its powdery white sand and shallow azure water ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

The meeting is the first major meeting of ASEAN under the Philippine chairmanship of ASEAN in 2017.

“During the retreat the ASEAN foreign ministers will take stock of ASEAN’s community building and integration efforts as well as exchange views and ideas on ASEAN’s relations with its external partners and also exchange views on regional and international issues of common interests and concern,” Philippine Foreign Assistant Secretary Charles Jose told a news conference.

Specifically, he said that the ASEAN foreign ministers will discuss “the many changes that are happening in the world,” including political, economic, social and environment.

“They have to plan on what step that ASEAN has to take in order to forge ahead in ASEAN’s community building efforts. And what do we have to take stock of? There are many challenges that we are facing right now, including transnational crime like terrorism, violent extremism, human trafficking, and even illegal drugs,” Jose said.

Yasay said in a statement that the retreat will discuss “ASEAN community building, including implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and international and regional issues of common concern to ASEAN.” Yasay will issue a statement shortly after the retreat ends on Tuesday.

Launched in Dec. 2015, the ASEAN community “envisions an outward-looking region with economic that are vibrant, competitive and highly integrated, and an inclusive community that is embedded with a strong sense of togetherness and common identity.”

“This community encompasses all facets of life as reflected by its political, security, economic and socio-cultural pillars,” Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said.

The theme of the Philippine chairmanship this year is “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” Manalo said. There are six priorities that the Philippines will pursue in 2017: A people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN; peace and stability in the region; maritime security and cooperation; inclusive innovation and growth; ASEAN’s resiliency; and ASEAN as a model of regionalism and a global player.

Under each thematic priority, Manalo said the Philippines will be pursuing, among others, the adoption of important documents, the conduct of activities in ASEAN, the crafting of work plans, action agendas on vital issues and areas such as peace and security in the region, maritimes cooperation, health and nutrition, the environment, women and children, migrant workers, radicalization and violent extremism, trade and investments, medium and small scale, medium enterprises, and innovation and inclusive growth.

As in past meetings, he said issues of common concern to ASEAN like the thickening tension in the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea issue will also be part of the agenda. But this year, Manalo said President Rodrigo Duterte would like to include ASEAN’s efforts in combating terrorism and illicit drugs in the agenda.

On Jan. 1 this year, the Philippines officially assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN for the year 2017, which also coincide with the 50th anniversary of the regional bloc.

 

Further reporting by China Report ASEAN:

In 2017, the 50th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN, what is often regarded as the world’s most succesful regional economic bloc faces new challenges and significant opportunities.

The South China Sea issue is still a concern for some members but the Philippines’ handling of the matter under new President Rodrigo Duterte has eased tensions.

Illegal drugs are a problem in much of ASEAN, especially in the Philippines, who, as chair of ASEAN in 2017, is likely to raise the issue.

Despite these serious challeges, ASEAN nations are becoming ever more connected and there is strong economic growth in much of the region.

Some analysts have called for more concrete plans to be put forward at ASEAN summits and this first retreat of the year is an exellent oportunity to revitalise the organisation.

 

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