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JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 13, 2001 – Antara)---Indonesia needs to prepare herself properly and clearly formulate the objective it wants to achieve before joining the West Pacific Forum (WPF), former foreign minister Ali Alatas said here Tuesday.

"I think this is the main question which emerged in this seminar," Alatas said on the sidelines of a seminar on "Challenges and Opportunities in the West Pacific."

However, he urged all parties not to have any prejudices on the proposal to establish the forum, which would group Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and East Timor.

Present at the two-day seminar organized by the Center for Australian Studies of the University of Indonesia, were former East Timor anti-integration leader Xanana Gusmao and Australian Ambassador Richard Smith.

Alatas said, another question that needed to be raised was the fruits of existing regional forums. For decades, he said, countries in the Asia Pacific region, especially in Southeast Asia, had been maintaining several regional forums such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC).

In these forums, countries projected to join the WPF had already become Indonesia’s partners.

However, the establishment of WFP -- proposed by President Abdurrahman Wahid during the ASEAN summit in Singapore -- was expected to cover larger areas of technical and economic cooperation as well as a permanent forum to exchange information on political issues.

Alatas said, the existence of WFP would support the current triangle cooperation schemes between Indonesia-Papua New Guinea-Australia, Indonesia-East Timor-Australia, and Indonesia’s cooperation with countries in the West Pacific, as well as anticipating e problems that may emerge in the future.

It would need continued dialogue and exchange of views not only to improve cooperation in marine resources development and fisheries, for instance, but also cooperation in how to anticipate climate change, and manage conflicts, he said.

"So far we did not have such a forum (with West Pacific countries)," he added.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab reiterated the importance of the forum’s establishment in the country’s interest despite the threat of separatism in some countries in the region.

The West Pacific is widely known as a region rich in resources of food, energy, trade, communication and transportation, and other economic goods.

However, many of these potentials had yet to be explored.

Sharing the same opinion with Shihab, an expert staff of the Minister for Eastern Indonesia Development, Michael Menufandu, said Indonesia needed the WPF in a cultural context.

Between the 1950s and 1960s, Irian Jayans had played an important role in a forum of Melanesia, he said.

RP May Accept

An official at the Philippines National Security Council, Carmina Acuna, said her government may accept the proposal to establish the WPF.

She pointed at three main challenges being faced by countries in the West Pacific, namely the process toward democratization, globalization and the military’s role in national development.

Australian Ambassador Richard Smith said, his government would support dialogues between leaders in the region regardless of the forum in which they took place.

But an Indonesian expert on the Law of the Sea, Professor Hasjim Djalal, raised questions about the main area of the proposed forum’s activities.

Djalal said, if the forum aimed to expand cooperation among Indonesia, the Philippines and certain countries in the South Pacific, what will be the opinion of those small countries in the South Pacific, which may not be included in the forum?



JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 14, 2001 – Antara)---An Indonesian expert on the Law of the Sea said on Wednesday that an in-depth and serious study should be conducted before a West Pacific Forum could be actually set up.

"I think it (the idea of forming the forum) is so vague that a deeper study is needed," Hasjim Djalal told the press after addressing a seminar on "Identifying Challenges and Opportunities in the West Pacific Region."

He noted that there were at least four problems that must be taken into account before the forum was established.

First, the forum had no clear area.

Second, there were no clear criteria for countries to become the forum's members. Indonesia had proposed that Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, China and the Philippines join the forum, but there was still the question of small countries located in the area.

Third, there were a lot of problems, which could be discussed in the forum in the fields of politics, economy and culture.

"The fourth problem concerns the model of the forum, be it an association, forum or something else. The model of the forum will depend on how it will be funded," he said.

But he suggested that the forum be confined to discussions on increased cooperation in the marine fishery sector.

Earlier, on Tuesday, former minister of foreign affairs Ali Alatas said the establishment of the forum should be based on rational considerations and with objectives that agreed with the particular geopolitical interest of the participating countries.

Indonesia, which had proposed the establishment of the West Pacific Forum, had been seeking the appropriate model of the forum, Hasjim Djalal said.

Therefore, it would take long time to form the forum, he said.

President Abdurrahman Wahid suggested the establishment of the West Pacific Forum last year, saying it was necessary to have such a forum to deal with the increased separatist movements in the country and accommodate the presence of the independent former province of East Timor.

The two-day seminar was organized by University of Indonesia (UI) in association with the Australian Studies Center.

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