West Pacific Forum



He wants new multilateral grouping which includes East Timor and Papua New Guinea after his suggestion to include them in Asean was ‘rejected’

INDONESIA’s President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday proposed a new multilateral forum to include East Timor and Papua New Guinea after Asean reportedly rejected his call to rope them into the organisation.

Calling it the West Pacific Forum, he said that it could also embrace Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, if they wished to join the pact.

“Indonesia realises that the existing relations with Asean is not enough. We should not only have one model which is Asean. We should look for other models,” he said.

Mr Abdurrahman, who was in Singapore for the Asean informal summit, was speaking to about 200 Indonesians living here at a closed-door meeting at the Indonesian Embassy.

According to a transcript of the remarks obtained by The Sunday Times, he raised the idea for a new forum after expressing disappointment with Asean as well as Singapore for not supporting Jakarta’s idea of embracing its eastern neighbours.

Mr Abdurrahman reportedly looked upset and angry yesterday as he spoke.

He said: “Two days ago, I met Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and I asked him to consider admitting East Timor and Papua New Guinea into Asean as members … He said that they will become a burden for Asean. If Lee Kuan Yew says ‘No’, then the rest will say ‘No’.”

He also criticised Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for not mentioning Indonesia in regional trade fairs, and said that the Singapore leader did not pay enough attention to Asean countries south of Singapore.

“Goh can go his own way and we can also go our own way,” he said. “I don’t think it will be a problem for us if Singapore gets angry by the fact that we are going to set up new ties with others.

“When Singapore set up a defence pact with Australia and New Zealand, they did not tell us anything. They also did not tell Indonesia and Malaysia that they would service US Navy ships.”

Mr Abdurrahman said that for a long while, only Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was critical of Singapore. “Now Mahathir has a new friend to join him,” he told the audience.

It was not immediately clear if his proposal had been discussed with the prospective members. Officials from some of those countries said they had not heard of the idea.

Said an Australian diplomat: “This is an interesting idea given recent developments in relations with Australia, for example, which has not been good.

“It is also a drastic break from the Asean tradition of solidarity in public even if there are problems between member states.”

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