Malaysian minister: ASEAN should fill US void

Malaysian minister: ASEAN should fill US void
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Should the US scale back its engagement in Asia Pacific, ASEAN should step up to the challenge of filling the void, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday.

He was the first foreign defence minister to speak at the fifth Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting, which serves as a prelude to the Shangri-La Dialogue taking place later in the year.

While US President Donald Trump has indicated he wants to reduce American commitment overseas, Mr Hishammuddin urged him to reconsider as the region is crucial to the US' security and economy.

Still, ASEAN should stand ready to pick up the slack through initiatives such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM-Plus, he said.

The latter includes the 10 ASEAN members and its dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the US.

Such groupings have been critical in addressing issues such as maritime security, counter-terrorism, and disaster relief, he added.

For instance, the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have been jointly patrolling the Malacca Straits since 2006.

"Indeed, I see both these initiatives as crucial part of ASEAN's regional security architecture, which provides us with the flexibility to address fast evolving challenges in a punishingly complex landscape," he said.

He also suggested that smaller groupings with common security concerns within ASEAN can work on those specific issues more effectively.

"... the reality of our very diverse political systems and foreign policy priorities means that it is sometimes more productive to work via focused caucuses among member states.

"At the end of the day, these initiatives are fundamentally building blocks towards the greater goal of a secure and united ASEAN community," he said.

He also said ASEAN's role should be emphasised as it can amplify the voices of individual countries that may otherwise be too small to have a decisive say.

"But... nobody, not the US, not China, can ignore the destiny and the future of 10 ASEAN countries that are united," he said.

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2017.
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