The relevance of Turkey's participation in the ASEAN regional forum

The relevance of Turkey's participation in the ASEAN regional forum

The latest statements and press reports indicate that Turkey's relations with the Asia-Pacific region, and specifically with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have been intensifying. Most recently, it was announced that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu paid a visit to Singapore from July 31 to Aug. 3 to attend the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting. Additionally, the first ASEAN-Turkey-Singapore Trilateral Meeting was held on the sidelines after the establishment of the Turkey-ASEAN Sectoral Dialogue Partnership in 2017.

Turkey agreed to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in 2010. This treaty was signed at the First ASEAN Summit in 1976 by the founding members of the ASEAN. The TAC envisages that in their relations with one another, the signatory parties, should be guided by the fundamental principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful settlement of differences and effective cooperation among themselves.

In addition to the 10 members of ASEAN – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam – the European Union and the following countries (aside from Turkey) have acceded to the TAC: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, East Timor, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Japan, Mongolia, Morocco, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The ASEAN Charter requires that prospective members must be geographically located in Southeast Asia. The Charter directs ASEAN to develop friendly relations and mutually beneficial dialogue, cooperation and partnership with other countries and sub-regional, regional, international organizations and institutions. In this framework, the Charter defines the formal status of external parties for ASEAN as Dialogue Partner, Sectoral Dialogue Partner, Development Partner, Special Observer, and Guest. All these statuses are subject to the decision by ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting. The Dialogue Partnership is considered to be the highest status that can be conferred to external parties. However, ASEAN has imposed a moratorium on Dialogue Partnership since 1999. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has stated that "Turkey's ultimate objective for developing its relations with ASEAN is to achieve Dialogue Partnership. However, since the moratorium is still in effect with no sign of lifting, Turkey has applied to become a Sectoral Dialogue Partner (SDP) with ASEAN in 2015 in order not to lose the momentum of relations." In this regard, Turkey was granted the status of Sectoral Dialogue Partner at the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting held in Manila in 2017.

For years now, Turkey has been busily working toward vastly increasing the number of its embassies around the world. This has also been the case for Asia, and it now has resident embassies in all 10 ASEAN member countries. It is apparent from the background information above that, in line with the requirements of multidimensional foreign policy and in view of the growing economic and political significance of Asia-Pacific, Turkey is meticulously expanding its relations with the region. ASEAN, as one of the pivotal regional organizations, is at the focal point of these relations.

It is worth mentioning that ASEAN has number of affiliated dialogue and consultation platforms. One of these is the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which was formed in 1993. The objectives of the ARF is "to foster constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and concern" and "to make significant contributions to efforts towards confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region." The current participants in the ARF are, in addition to ASEAN member states, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, North Korea, the EU, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka, East Timor, and the United States. As it can be seen from the participant list, ARF has some very prominent non-ASEAN participating states. It is stated in ARF that the main criteria for the participation are commitment, gradual expansion, relevance and consultations. According to relevance criteria, "a new participant should be admitted only if it can be demonstrated that it has an impact on the peace and security of the 'geographical footprint' of key ARF activities (i.e. Northeast and Southeast Asia as well as Oceania)."

It is well known that Turkey has been actively participating in number of dialogue and cooperation platforms in Asia. For example, Turkey is among the founding and most active member states of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and took over the CICA Chairmanship from Kazakhstan at the 3rd CICA Summit held in Istanbul in 2010 for a period of two years. Afterward, Turkey's chairmanship was extended by the member states for another two years (between 2012 and 2014). Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Mongolia, which are participants of ARF, are at the same time member states of CICA. Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and the U.S., which are also ARF participants, are observer states of CICA. Turkey's very active membership in CICA attests to its active involvement and the potential to shoulder responsibility in the "Northeast and Southeast Asia as well as Oceania" region. Furthermore, Turkey has been a member of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) since 1996. In addition to all these, ARF and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkey is a very active member with vast experience, are more or less similar institutions in the neighboring continents.

In the light of all the above, it could be said that Turkey's participation in ARF is entirely in line with its multilateral approach to foreign policy. The black and white mentality of Cold War that saw Turkey as the eastern-most point of the Western bloc is long dead. The world is rapidly moving toward a multipolar state with the Asia-Pacific region set to play a pivotal role. Everyone, including Turkey, is aware of the need to adapt to the new state of international affairs. While firmly committed to its long-standing ties with Western institutions and organizations, Turkey must expand its relations eastward as well. In this respect, its participation in ARF will be beneficial to both ASEAN and Turkey as well to all of the ARF participants. In fact, Turkey's pivotal position in Eurasia makes such participation that much more meaningful.

* Analyst, Ankara-based the Center for Eurasian Studies (AVİM)

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