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Asean experts find ways to move forward diplomatically

BEIJING: Asian countries could no longer rely on “unofficial talks” with one another due to the frequent change in leadership, an expert said.

Philips Jusario Vermonte, executive director of the Centre for Strategic and Interna­tional Studies Indonesia, noted that the current crop of Asean leaders were “new”.

This, he said, was unlike in the old days when leaders were at the helm for decades and knew each other well.

“Any problem that occurred, they just made a personal phone call and that was it,” he said.

“They did not pursue further but the issues were still not solved constitutionally,” Ver­monte said, adding that there should be a problem-solving mechanism that would en­­able Asean to work things out at a faster pace.

Speaking at a panel discussion on “Enhancing Mutual Trust between China and Asean” at the World Peace Forum by Tsinghua University yesterday, Vermonte shared the views of other speakers that in-depth negotiations between Asean members and China was the best solution to prevent disputes from escalating.

“Asean sees China as an opportunity for development but it is cautious on how to react to the dispute,” he said.

At another panel session, Wawasan Open University chairman Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon suggested that the cooperation between China and Asean be enhanced via “less sensitive” sectors such as cultural exchange, marine life research, education and tourism.

He called for more funding for these areas.

“Compared to the funds used in constructing infrastructure, the amount to be spent in these sectors is very small but it can bring huge impact,” he said.

Dr Koh dispelled concerns that the Belt and Road Initiative was a propaganda of China seeking hegemony but added that Chinese investors should take into consideration the possible resentment of the locals.

“The influx of Chinese house buyers can cause property prices to go beyond their af­fordable range,” he said.

Furthermore, he said that these investors, who might bring their workers along, could also lead to the locals feeling that they were deprived of jobs.

The forum also focused on issues such as nuclear threats from North Korea, future of globalisation and achieving peace in the Middle East.

ASEAN , China , Asean , Koh Tsu Koon