The Hanoi defense talks: For permanent or short-term goals? Imanuddin Razak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 10/12/2010 10:04 AM | Headlines A | A | A | Defense chiefs from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with eight dialogue partners â€” Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, the United States â€” meet in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi today. Upon observing the list of participants, which represents a miniature of the Asia-Pacific region, the meeting will essentially discuss issues involving strategic defense and security affairs in one of the most dynamic regions in the world. A host of regional defense- and security-related problems are on the agenda, but the meeting â€” the first of such a regional defense meeting â€” will very likely be dominated by topics on Chinaâ€™s claims over disputed areas in South China Sea and assertiveness in the region despite assurance from the host country that the meeting would try to identify common interests and avoid becoming â€œa place for a war of wordsâ€. So concerned was the US with the continuing tension in the region that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an ASEAN regional security forum in Vietnam in July that the peaceful resolution of disputes over the Spratlys and Paracel island groups was in the American national interest. Her statement, however, has angered Beijing which then accused Washington of interfering in an Asian regional issue. A number of incidents has heightened the tension in the region in the past weeks. On Sept. 8, a Chinese fishing boat captain was arrested after his boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of islands, called Diaoyu in China, and Senkaku in Japan. The islands, about 190 kilometers east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by Taiwan and China. The captain was released late last month. Also in September, on the 11th, a Vietnamese fishing trawler was seized and its nine sailors were arrested by Chinese authorities for fishing near the Paracel Islands, disputed by China and Vietnam. The Vietnamese authorities have asked for the unconditional release of the arrested sailors. The region is also prone to similar tension and potential disputes due to competing claims on the Spratlys Islands, which are claimed in whole or in part by four ASEAN members â€” Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam and Vietnam â€” plus China and Taiwan; and on the Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines and China. Apart from the disputes in the greater Asia-Pacific region, territorial claims and disputes within ASEAN member countries also still threaten cohesion in the smaller Southeast Asian regional grouping. Indonesia, for instance, beside having border disputes with India, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Australia, also has such disputes with Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. A tense and unstable Asia Pacific is obviously unwanted, not only by its member countries, but also by others with commercial interests in the region, which is rich in fishing areas and believed to contain huge oil and natural gas deposits. The region is also home to one of the worldâ€™s busiest and important commercial sea lanes, a crucial conduit for oil and other resources fueling the regional and global economy. It is thus encouraging to see the initiatives taken to bring and settle all those territorial disputes through dialogue, such as the one starting in Hanoi today. But it is unreasonable to expect the Hanoi meeting be able to settle all those disputes overnight as there are still a lot of obstacles and problems that may hamper the process in the long run. There is still a lot of disagreement and difference to settle. Hopefully, member countries in the region, particularly the meeting participants, have the long-lasting energy to proceed with fruitful talks in the future. Right now, it is too early to expect the forum to be established as a permanent one, like the one the region already has in the form of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. But in the long run it is not wrong to expect that such a timely regional defense forum develops into a permanent one, authorized to settle all those problems and differences, with binding commitments among its member countries.