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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Asean ministers cautious on Indonesia
Asean meeting
Ministers do not want to interfere in Indonesia's crisis
The appointment of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesian president has drawn a cautious response from foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

It is important for the stability of the whole of Asean that Indonesia is able to resolve this problem

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar
Publicly, most have taken the line that it is up to the Indonesian people to decide.

Only Singapore's Foreign Minister S Jayakumar has gone further with an outright welcome, saying he hoped Indonesia would now see a period of calm.

Megawati Sukarnoputri is sworn in as Indonesian president
Megawati Sukarnoputri is sworn in as Indonesian president
The annual two-day meeting is officially focussing on the region's economic problems, but the BBC Hanoi correspondent says that outside the conference chamber, delegates are talking about little else but events in Jakarta.

Mr Jayakumar said: "President Megawati's appointment as president by the MPR is a very significant development."

"We welcome the appointment," he said, "It is my hope that this will enable Indonesia under her leadership to have a period of calm during which they will begin to address the very serious problems they have had in recent times."

Internal matter

Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the decision was up to the people of Indonesia. "We stand by the people of Indonesia," he said.

Philippines Foreign Minister and Vice President, Teofisto Guingona echoed that comment, saying ministers had discussed the situation in Indonesia but Asean had a principle to leave internal affairs to the nation concerned.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab is staying away from the summit, and is being represented by a senior official instead.

Financial crisis

The gathering brings together the 10 members of Asean, and later in the week, larger powers like the United States, Russia, Japan and China.

Indonesian President Wahid
Indonesia's embattled president faces impeachment
Other items on the agenda will be the failure of the region's economies to recover from the 1997 financial crisis.

Asean's member states have been finding it difficult to turn the association into a more integrated regional block.

Delegates will also discuss a proposed resolution pledging to narrow the gap between the richer member states and the poorer ones - Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to join discussions on Tuesday for his first trip to the country since he served in the Vietnam War.

Chinese influence

It is not just the political chaos in the association's largest member state which is worrying Asean's leaders, correspondents say.

On almost every other problem confronting the regional block in recent years there has been little or no progress.

Haze over Kuala Lumpur
Little has been achieved towards fighting the haze problem
The plan to create an Asean free trade area has been set back because of Malaysia's determination to protect its car industry.

Smoke haze from forest fires in Indonesia is back again, and the region has a growing drug addiction problem, with most of the drugs being made inside fellow member state, Burma.

But the lack of consensus between countries ranging from authoritarian Vietnam to democratic Thailand, and impoverished Cambodia to wealthy Singapore, is still the main obstacle to reaching an agreement on ways to deal with these challenges.

As a result, China's huge economic and diplomatic influence is beginning to show in the region, with some politicians even suggesting bringing China in as a new member of Asean.

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See also:

11 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asean and EU seek common ground
25 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China proposes free trade zone
25 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asean seeks to widen its net
04 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asean rules out Burma intervention
10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia's fires: Who's to blame ?
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