(AFP) – 6 hours ago
HANOI — Southeast Asian countries have agreed to invite the United States and Russia to join a key regional dialogue on issues ranging from security to trade and the environment, Indonesia said Tuesday.
Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had decided to deepen engagement with Washington and Moscow by expanding the 16-nation East Asia Summit (EAS).
Diplomats said their inclusion would also help to "counterbalance" the dominance of regional superpower China.
"We are in one mind in recognising that the principal modality for the integration or the involvement or engagement of the Russian Federation and the United States in the region is through the EAS expansion," Natalegawa said on the sidelines of an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Vietnam.
The EAS currently comprises the 10 ASEAN states plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Its leaders hold an annual meeting that coincides with the yearly ASEAN summit.
There had been concerns by some ASEAN members about the group's central role under the expanded EAS, but in the end the foreign ministers decided to rope the United States and Russia into the group, he said.
Diplomats said closer ties with the United States and Russia will provide a balancing role as China's economic and military influence rises in the region.
"There must be a counterbalance, otherwise one country will dominate," a Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP, referring to China.
"ASEAN can play a central role because it is a friend to all the major powers," the diplomat said.
The EAS is heavy on the trade agenda, with ASEAN already forging two-way free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, India, China, Japan and South Korea.
Ideas have been floated about the possibility of a massive free-trade pact involving all 16 countries, but discussions in the EAS also covers topics such as security and environmental issues.
A second ASEAN diplomat said the move to include the US and Russia in an expanded EAS would "preempt" the emergence of other regional groupings that could dilute's ASEAN's role.
Last year, proposals for two other regional groupings emerged. Japan raised the idea of an East Asian Community focused on economic ties, while Australia's then-prime minister Kevin Rudd mooted an Asia-Pacific Community that would include the US.