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NEWS - ASEAN-Wide Military Links to

ASEAN-Wide Military Links to Offset China Expert

               By Rene Pastor 

               SINGAPORE, Nov 20 (Reuters) - ASEAN countries
               should set up formal links between their armed
               forces so ASEAN can serve as an effective
               counterweight to China, an Indonesian security
               expert said on Thursday. 

               Dewi Fortuna Anwar, of the Centre for Political and
               Regional Studies, said in a paper at a roundtable on
               the expansion of ASEAN it was time to consider a
               region-wide security forum where all nine members
               of the group can take part in joint military exercises.

               Anwar, who is head of regional and international
               affairs at the centre, told reporters formal ties
               linking the military establishments of all ASEAN
               countries ``will go a long way to reducing existing
               divisions'' among members. 

               Asked if this would be seen as an attempt by
               ASEAN to develop an effective counterweight to
               China, she said: ``Why not? We want to
               counterbalance the influence of China.'' 

               Establishment of an ASEAN-wide security structure
               will improve the ability of military forces in the
               region to work together as a collective unit even
               though the region is still not ``able to stand up to
               China,'' she said. 

               ``But at least it could make it harder for China or
               Japan or the United States to divide and rule
               ASEAN and to push it around,'' Anwar added. 

               Members of ASEAN have outstanding territorial
               disputes with China over ownership of the Spratly
               islands, which security experts have said could
               become one of the flashpoints for conflict in the

               The potentially oil-rich cluster of islands and coral
               reefs in the South China sea are claimed in whole
               or in part by ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the
               Philippines and Vietnam. 

               Under current arrangements, there is no
               ASEAN-wide security arrangement. Most countries
               conduct bilateral or trilateral military exercises with
               one another. 

               At the moment, military officers only attend the
               ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) but do not take part
               in other activities of the group. 

               ``Why don't we also bring military people into our
               ASEAN discussions?'' she said. ``Close
               cooperation among military personnel is the most
               effective way to remove mutual suspicions and
               promote transparency,'' the expert added in her

               Anwar said it would take much time and resources
               to create security arrangements to cover all nine
               members of the Association of South East Asian
               Nations (ASEAN). 

               ASEAN links Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia,
               Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and