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INTERVIEWASEAN deputy secretary-general hopes for stronger cooperation

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Robert Matheus Michael Tene, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN Secretariat for ASEAN Political-Security Community, pose for a photo ahead of the ASEAN-Korea Forum at the Chey Jong-Hyun Hall of Korea University, Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of ASEAN-Korea Centre
Robert Matheus Michael Tene, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN Secretariat for ASEAN Political-Security Community, pose for a photo ahead of the ASEAN-Korea Forum at the Chey Jong-Hyun Hall of Korea University, Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of ASEAN-Korea Centre

By Kwon Mee-yoo

While welcoming Korea's new Indo-Pacific strategy announced earlier this month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) looks for Korea to bring more concrete ideas and actions to strengthen the ties.

Robert Matheus Michael Tene, deputy secretary-general of the ASEAN Secretariat for the ASEAN Political-Security Community, said, "ASEAN encourages the ROK (Republic of Korea) to undertake substantive, practical and tangible cooperation with ASEAN."

Tene, a veteran diplomat with over 25 years of experience, including at the Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the ASEAN Secretariat, visited Korea to participate in the ASEAN-Korea Forum at the Chey Jong-Hyun Hall of Korea University, Seoul, Thursday.

During the 23rd ASEAN-Korea Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia earlier this month, Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol unveiled the country's new Indo-Pacific strategy, expanding the previous administration's economy-centered policy to a more comprehensive one promoting the principles of freedom, peace and prosperity built on a rules-based international order based on universal values.

"ASEAN and the ROK shared the importance of multilateralism, regionalism, and international law in contributing to global and regional peace, stability and prosperity," Tene said during a written interview with The Korea Times ahead of the forum.

"ASEAN welcomed the ROK's vision and commitment to a free, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific presented in the Indo-Pacific strategy... The vision and goals of the ROK's Indo-Pacific strategy complement and are in line with the objectives and principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), including strengthening ASEAN Centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity, a rules-based framework, good governance, respect for sovereignty, non-interference, mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit and respect for international law."

Tene said that the ASEAN also welcomed the Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative (KASI) as a core component of Korea's Indo-Pacific strategy.

"It aims to further strengthening the ROK's cooperation with ASEAN, including through measures such as doubling the ROK's annual contribution to the ASEAN-Korea Cooperation Fund over the next five years to support more activities and projects and the establishment of an ASEAN Korea Cooperation Centre for Carbon Neutrality and Energy Security. We looked forward to the implementation of these initiatives," he said.

Regarding the growing U.S-China rivalry in the ASEAN region, Tene emphasized the geopolitical significance of the region.

"For decades, ASEAN has been playing a central role in regional affairs through ASEAN-led mechanisms, which bring together major countries to discuss issues of common interest and concern, with the aim of promoting peace, stability and cooperation in the region," the deputy secretary-general said.

"The AOIP further provides a framework for ASEAN's constructive engagement in the wider Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. It envisages ASEAN Centrality in promoting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, through ASEAN-led mechanisms.

"Within the framework of the AOIP, ASEAN is committed to working with external partners in responding to emerging opportunities and challenges and in actively shaping a rules-based regional architecture that is capable of tackling pressing common regional and global issues."

He noted that both China and the United States are important dialogue partners of the ASEAN and that Korea has a role to play in the region as well.

"Stable U.S.-China relations will benefit regional peace, stability and cooperation. ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus and the ASEAN Regional Forum bring together all major countries inside and outside the region to discuss and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues of common concern and interest," Tene said.

"In this regard, ASEAN appreciates the ROK's support for ASEAN Centrality and the ROK's active participation in ASEAN-led mechanisms, which contribute to promoting dialogue and cooperation towards peace, stability and prosperity in the region."

North Korea's recent barrage of missile tests and nuclear weapons program development pose a grave threat to Asia, including the ASEAN region.

Tene said, "The increased tension on the Korean Peninsula is a worrisome development that threatens peace and stability in the region."

"At the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits earlier this month in Phnom Penh, the ASEAN leaders stressed the importance of continued peaceful dialogue among all concerned parties in order to realize lasting peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," he said, referring to the ASEAN's stance on the Korean Peninsula reflected in various statements.

"The ASEAN leaders reiterated their commitment to the full implementation of all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions and noted international efforts to bring about the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. Diplomatic efforts, including the creation of a conducive environment for peaceful dialogue among all concerned parties, should remain a priority. To this end, ASEAN Leaders welcomed the ROK's recently unveiled 'Audacious Initiative,' which aims at the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the region."

The deputy secretary-general added that the ASEAN is also ready to play a constructive role, including through utilizing ASEAN-led platforms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), in promoting a conducive atmosphere for peaceful dialogue among the concerned parties.

Southeast Asia is among the most dynamic and diverse regions in the world. Since its establishment in 1967, the ASEAN has played a central role in delivering and maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region through cooperation based on consultation and consensus.

"Such a cooperation framework has also allowed ASEAN to develop several ASEAN-led regional mechanisms that bring together ASEAN's various partners to discuss and address issues of common concern and interest," Tene said.

The ASEAN remains committed to promoting a regional architecture that is open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based through further strengthening ASEAN-led mechanisms such as ASEAN Plus One, ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

The ASEAN adopted its Community Vision 2025, pursuing a peaceful, stable and resilient community and enhancing the ASEAN's capacity to respond effectively to challenges, in 2015.

In accordance with the vision, the ASEAN aims to be an outward-looking region within a global community of nations, while maintaining ASEAN centrality.

"Currently, ASEAN is developing a Post 2025 Vision that will further build on the gains and successes of the ASEAN Community building efforts. The current exercise is inclusive and participatory with all relevant sectors envisioned to be consulted. ASEAN also looks forward to further deepening its external relations in recognition of the invaluable contribution of our external partners to ASEAN Community building," he said.

Kwon Mee-yoo

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