HANOI, June 28 (Bernama) — A special Senior Officials Meeting of Asean (Asean SOM) took place in Hanoi to discuss the bloc’s central role and strategic orientations for the future regional structure, Vietnam News agency (VNA) reported.

The meeting, initiated by Vietnam at the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Nay Pyi Taw in May, is the first step in the process of discussion on a regional structure, particularly after the Asean Community takes shape in 2015.

The meeting assessed the impact of recent developments on the geostrategy in the region and challenges posed to Asean’s central role.

The officials also debated ways to maintain and uphold Asean’s central role and drafted a strategy to help Asean better adopt to a new strategic environment while enhancing the bloc’s common voice and responsibility regarding issues related to the region’s strategic interests.

At the event, Asean officials agreed that the regional geostrategic circumstances are changing fast, with many complicated developments deeply affecting the environment of peace, security, stability and development in the region.

Asean is now in a key period in the formation of the Asean Community by Dec 31, 2015 and interference in regional cooperation is posing not only opportunities but also challenges to the bloc in maintaining its central role in the region, VNA reported.

At the same time, growing regional economic connectivity through such frameworks as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Trans-Asia Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the trade liberalisation process within APEC also test Asean’s ability in maintaining its centrality and role as the primary driving force.

Besides, Asean also needs to consider new proposals on cooperative structures and the regional security environment.

In this context, Asean members stressed that the bloc more than ever need to strengthen and maintain its central role in the region, particularly in preserving unity to promote Asean’ common interests, seeking ways to deal with major powers and proactively expressing its stance and proposing solutions for issues arising in the region, VNA reported.

Accordingly, they said Asean should define a common approach to strategic issues in the region in order to ensure the bloc’s common interests, while strengthening mechanisms for cooperation within the bloc and between the bloc and partners with a view to enhancing its capacity in dealing with traditional and non-traditional security challenges, particularly sea and island disputes, natural disasters and epidemics.

On the other hand, they agreed that Asean should push forward its consultation process in order to achieve consensus and a common voice through harmonising national and regional interests.

Asean should continue building a regional structure on the basis of existing regional cooperative mechanisms in which it plays the core role, while working harder to build and share Asean’s codes of conducts, values and basic principles towards the goal of putting in place a common code of conducts for the entire region.

According to VNA participants affirmed that the on-going complicated developments in the East Sea have seriously affected peace, stability, maritime security and safety in the region.

Therefore, this is a matter of common concern on which ASEAN should raise its voice to demonstrate the bloc’s central role and responsibility. They said Asean should speak out to support the maintenance of peace, security and stability in the region, the news agency reported.

The participants underlined the need to abide by international law, the 1982 United Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982 UNCLOS) and related agreements in the region, especially the serious and full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) to which China is a signatory, without the use of or threat to use force, while working towards an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the East Sea (COC), in order to better ensure peace, stability and security in the region.

Heads of SOM Asean also discussed the outcomes of the Asean-China Joint Working Group which took place in Bali from June 24-25 and gave instructions on the implementation of the DOC and pushing for negotiations with China on the COC.