SINGAPORE - Officials from Asean countries and their key counterparts across the region will be in Singapore for a series of annual meetings this week, starting on Monday (July 30).
The Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) and related meetings will, as they do every year, take stock of regional integration and a host of issues, from preparing and responding to disasters to staying committed to free trade amid rising protectionism.
North Korea will also be in focus, as the Asean Regional Forum on Saturday will be the first time its foreign minister Ri Yong Ho meets his counterparts from Asean and other partners since the warming of ties between the two Koreas as well as between Pyongyang and Washington this year.
Singapore is chairing Asean this year and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will chair the AMM, the grouping's 51st since its formation in Bangkok in 1967.
"The Asean Foreign Ministers (FMs) will take stock of progress in regional cooperation and chart the way forward towards implementing the Asean Leaders' Vision for a Resilient and Innovative Asean," Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement announcing the meetings.
"They will also discuss how to further strengthen Asean centrality and unity, review Asean's external relations, and exchange views on regional and international issues."
A joint communique agreed upon by all 10 Asean members is traditionally released after the AMM.
The meetings, which end on Saturday, will be held at the Singapore Expo convention and exhibition centre.
Dr Balakrishnan will also chair several other meetings of foreign ministers. These are:
- Asean Plus Three (APT) with China, Japan and South Korea;
- East Asia Summit (EAS), which groups Asean and eight dialogue partners: China, Japan and South Korea, plus India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Russia;
- Asean Regional Forum (ARF) with all EAS members, Asean's two other dialogue partners Canada and the European Union (EU), plus Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Mongolia, North Korea, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
He will also co-chair the Asean-China Post-Ministerial Conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as Singapore is the country coordinator for Asean-China dialogue relations. It will hand over to the Philippines after the meeting, which will be watched for signs of progress on a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
All 10 Asean members take up three-year rotating chairmanships for dialogue with the grouping's key partners, and Singapore will take over as coordinator for Asean-EU dialogue ties from Thailand.
The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini will also be in Singapore this week, as will US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, among others.
They will meet their counterparts from Asean members and others to discuss both ongoing and future cooperation. One area is tie-ups on developing Smart Cities, a key focus of Singapore's chairmanship year.
The Asean ministers will also engage their counterparts at the APT and EAS meetings, and the ARF, on key regional and international developments and the evolving regional architecture, MFA added.
The Straits Times understands that themes likely to surface apart from North Korea are the importance of a rules-based order, and ways to ensure the regional architecture remains open and inclusive amid recent talk of an Indo-Pacific strategy by the US and Japan.
Officials from Asean countries have reiterated the need for Asean centrality - ensuring it remains in the driver's seat on developments in the region - and for unity amidst rivalry between external powers.
One important signal is how it responds to crises, such as Rohingya refugees and tensions in the South China Sea, which may be raised. Recent disasters like the dam collapse and floods in Laos could also see discussions on how the region can better respond to incidents, and adopt mitigation strategies to minimise their likelihood and casualties.