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Regional architecture

ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

Established in 1994, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is an important platform for security dialogue in the Indo-Pacific. It provides a setting in which members can discuss current security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region.

The ARF is characterised by consensus-based decision-making and frank dialogue. It comprises 27 members: the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and the United States); Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste; and one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea).

Australia's Involvement in the ARF

Australia was a founding member of the ARF. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for ARF policy, in consultation with the Department of Defence and other relevant agencies. The ARF has five work streams: Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Security; Disaster Relief; Maritime Security; and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Australia has been an active participant in the ARF's discussions and activities since its founding. In recent years this work has included:

  • Supporting ARF efforts to develop preventive diplomacy tools, including as a key drafter of the ARF Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy.
  • Australia recently concluded its term as co-chair, along with Vietnam and the EU, of the ARF's Maritime Security Work Stream for the period 2018-2021. In this role, Australia has:
    • hosted the 2018 Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM)on Maritime Security on 27-28 March in Brisbane
    • co-chaired, with Malaysia and Timor Leste, an ARF workshop on Dispute Resolution and Law of the Sea (27-28 February 2020, Dili)
    • co-chaired with Vietnam and the EU three ARF workshops on Enhancing Regional Maritime Law Enforcement Cooperation (18-19 January 2018 in Nha Trang, Vietnam, 12-13 March 2019 in Da Nang, Vietnam and 16-17 March 2021, held virtually)
    • co-chaired, with Vietnam and the EU, the 2021 ISM on Maritime Security on 29 April held virtually
    • co-chaired, with Vietnam, two workshops on Implementing UNCLOS and other Legal Instruments to Address Emerging Maritime Issues on 26-27 February 2019 in Nha Trang, Vietnam and 1-2 June 2021, held virtually.
  • At the most recent ARF Ministerial Meeting, on 6 August 2021 via videoconference, Ministers adopted a Brunei-led statement, co-sponsored by Australia on Promoting the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. It was also agreed that Australia, along with Indonesia, ROK and Russia, would co-chair the ICT work stream on a rotating basis for the upcoming three-year period. Australia will co-chair in 2021-22 and again in 2023-24.
  • In 2020, Australia co-sponsored ARF Foreign Ministers’ statements on Enhancing Cooperation to Prevent and Response to Infectious Disease Outbreaks and The Treatment of Children Recruited by or Associated with Terrorist Groups.
  • In 2019, Australia co-sponsored ARF Foreign Ministers' statements on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism, and Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the ARF.
  • In 2018, Australia co-sponsored an ARF Foreign Ministers' Statement on Disaster Management Cooperation with China.
  • Australia co-chaired, with China and Thailand, an ARF Workshop on Regional Climate Change and Coastal Disaster Mitigation on 1-2 November 2018 in Tianjin, China.
  • From 2015-2019, Australia served as co-lead, with Malaysia, of the Counter-Radicalisation priority area of the ARF Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Work Stream.

ARF meetings and processes

Over the inter-sessional year, the five work streams each host one Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM), and a number of workshops and activities. Each stream adopts a multi-year work plan, which identifies priority areas and co-chairs for that period.

The Inter-Sessional Support Group (ISG) is the key annual meeting for ARF working-level officials. Australia co-chaired the ISG in 2020-21 with Brunei, which was held via videoconference on 24 May 2021. Held approximately one month before the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM), the primary function of the ISG is to table and consider new work plans, activity proposals, CBMs and preventive diplomacy initiatives, which are then submitted to the SOM for further consideration. The ISG also provides an opportunity for the co-chairs of ARF meetings and activities completed over the preceding inter-sessional year to report on the key discussions and outcomes from these events.

As the key preparatory meeting in advance of the ARF Ministerial Meeting, the SOM plays a central role in managing the ARF process. The key functions of the SOM are to endorse proposed ARF activities and meetings for the following intersessional year; consider proposed ARF ministerial statements; discuss ARF institutional matters; and exchange views on regional security issues at the senior officials' level.

The ARF year culminates with the annual foreign minister-level ARF, which is held in conjunction with the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) and East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting. The chair of ASEAN is also the chair of the ARF. The role of ASEAN chair rotates annually between the ten ASEAN member states. The principal formal ARF outcome document is the ARF Chair's Statement, issued at the conclusion of the ARF Ministerial Meeting.

The most recent Ministerial Meeting of the ARF was held via videoconference on 6 August 2021. The meeting focused on key regional issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar crisis, the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea, Counter-Terrorism and Cyber Security. At the meeting on 12 September 2020, Ministers adopted the ARF Hanoi Plan of Action II (2020-25) as the overarching guiding document for the forum's five work streams.

The next Ministerial Meeting will be hosted by Cambodia in 2022.

ARF Related Bodies

The ARF has a 1.5 track body called the ARF Experts and Eminent Persons group (the EEPs), which meets annually to provide advice and recommendations to ARF officials (known as Track One). The ARF EEP group most recently met via videoconference on 6 July, co-chaired by Myanmar and China. Second-track (i.e. non-official) institutions, such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN ISIS) and ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) also generate ideas and input for the ARF's consideration. The second-track institutions and networks conduct a number of seminars and working groups on regional security issues, involving academics, security specialists and officials participating in a personal capacity. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence have supported the activities of AUS-CSCAP (the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific) since its establishment in 1992.

ARF Documents

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