Consensus view that Asean has 'special role' to play in proposed Asia-Pacific grouping

There is clearly a consensus that Asean has to be at the centre of any new Asia-Pacific security architecture that emerges to grapple with security challenges such as piracy, terrorism and natural disasters.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, also the Defence Minister, was speaking to reporters after hosting lunch for his defence counterparts yesterday, on the second day of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

This is an annual meeting, held since 2002, of defence ministers, officials and military brass from 27 countries.

Asean, being at the centre of the region, had a 'special role' to play in such a set-up.

'It is also an honest broker, and Asean might be a good fulcrum for bringing together all the different countries in the different sub-regions in the Asia-Pacific,' he added.

Saying this Asean-centric focus was the prevailing view at the lunch, Mr Teo also said the ministers agreed that the new regional body 'ought to be open, flexible and inclusive' where big and small countries have a role to play.

The idea of a new security grouping has gained momentum in the past few years. Mr Teo addressed the issue at last year's gathering.

Since then, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called for an Asia-Pacific Community, envisioned to cover the entire Asia-Pacific - including the United States, Japan, China and India.

Mr Rudd, this year's keynote speaker last Friday, again pitched his idea, arguing that no regional body in the Asia-Pacific now covers all the security challenges.

To be effective, the new body must have the mandate to deal with regional financial and economic integration, security cooperation, and act as a forum for a slew of 'non-traditional threats' such as food security and climate change.