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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Asean tackles terrorism and trade
Brunei soldiers and sniffer dog
Security was high on the agenda
Fighting terrorism and rebuilding economies should be priorities for South East Asian nations, the Sultan of Brunei has told a regional meeting.

The economic situation was the most important issue for the people of the region but security was vital if inward investment was to be attracted, host Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in his opening remarks to the Asean (Association of South East Asian nations) Regional Forum.


Without peace and stability, all Asean's work will ultimately founder

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
Correspondents said issues involving the Korean peninsula were expected to rise up the agenda, after reports that North Korea was prepared to offer talks with the US and Japan as well as the South.

However progress on another security issue was dealt a blow on Monday when Malaysia's proposal for a code of conduct on the disputed Spratly islands failed to win support from most of Asean.

Malaysia also failed to push through its proposal to house a secretariat of the Asean Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur, as most members of Asean felt it would undermine the Asean secretariat already in place in Jakarta.

Anti-terror pact

But it was terrorism that topped the agenda of the Sultan's opening speech at the ARF, which groups Asean foreign ministers with representatives from key regional partners including the US, Japan and China.

"As an association we succeed or fail on the durability of peace and stability in South East Asia," the Sultan said.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah outlined the challenges facing the region
"Without peace and stability, all Asean's work will ultimately founder."

The Asean nations are expected to sign an anti-terror pact with the US, represented by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In return for providing intelligence, the US will provide technical and financial help for the Asian nations to counter their security threats.

Trade area

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, said economic development would also be a key issue at the summit, with Asean looking to form a huge free-trade area with China.

China now gets most of the foreign investment that used to go to the smaller regional economies - such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - and ministers would like to redress the balance.

Regional security is set to assume a higher profile after news that North Korea was looking to improve its relations with South Korea, the US and Japan.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun will be in Bandar Seri Bagawan for the Asean meeting and there are reports that he could meet with a US representative on the forum's sidelines.

Asean members
Brunei
Burma
Cambodia
Indonesia
Laos
Malaysia
Philippines
Singapore
Thailand
Vietnam

It was hoped that tension in another potential flashpoint in the region - the Spratlys, all or part of which are claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam - would have been lowered by a pact proposed by Malaysia.

But Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said: "It cannot be signed here. There's a lot of changes in the wording."

There is speculation that considerable oil and gas reserves lie beneath the collection of about 100 submerged banks, reefs and tiny islets in the South China Sea.

See also:

29 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
05 Jul 02 | Business
05 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
12 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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