ASEAN Defense Ministers Meet for the 6th Time

The defense ministers of the 10 ASEAN members met for the 6th time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 29 May 2012. One of the highlights of the meeting is their decision to increase the frequency of meeting their counter-parts from the eight dialogue partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US) to every two years. The 10 ASEAN defense ministers and the eight defense ministers from these countries comprise the ADMM-Plus, which when launched last October 2010, was set to convene every three years. With the recent decision of the ASEAN defense ministers, the ADMM-Plus will now convene every two years after the second ADMM-Plus meeting in Brunei next year.

At the sidelines of the ADMM, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire T. Gazmin and China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, who was also in Cambodia for an official visit, held bilateral talks. Minister Liang noted that while the Philippines and China are currently facing difficulties, positive remarks are notable in regard to the two countries’ defense relations. He likewise acknowledged that the two defense ministers having a dialogue would definitely contribute in the search for a solution to the current situation.

According to Minister Liang, the two defense departments should play a positive role specifically by staying calm, making prudent remarks as to the situation to avoid overstatements and misinterpretations by other parties, observing restraint in their actions and most importantly keeping the lines of communications open. He likewise noted that stability in the West Philippine Sea would certainly contribute to the prosperity of the two countries and their neighbours.

Countering the point raised by Minister Liang that it was the Philippines’ action to have a Philippine Navy vessel arrest Chinese fishermen if not for the timely intervention of China’s maritime surveillance vessels, Secretary Gazmin emphasized that the Navy vessel which was then en route to the northern part of the Philippines to assist Filipinos who would have been affected by the falling debris of North Korea’s rocket which was being launched in mid-April received reports of unidentified vessels being present in the Philippines’ Panatag Shoal. Having verified that the vessels were collecting corals and reefs and endangered species, the Navy Ship turned the matter over the Philippine Coast Guard which is in-charge of maritime law enforcement for the Philippines. Secretary Gazmin was likewise of the view that channels of communication should be kept between the two defense ministers.