ASEAN Regional Forum
Established in 1994, the Foreign Minister-led 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 ten ASEAN member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); the ten of ASEAN’s dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States); as well as Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
ARF meetings and processes
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. At the 2020 ARF, Ministers adopted the ARF Hanoi Plan of Action II (2020-25) as the overarching guiding document for the ARF’s five work streams.
Over the ARF year – which usually runs August to July – the work streams each host one Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM), along with workshops and activities that ARF members propose. Each work stream adopts a multi-year work plan, which identifies priority areas and co-chairs for that period.
The Inter-Sessional Support Group Meeting on Confidence Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy (ISG) is the key annual meeting for ARF working-level officials. Australia co-chaired the ISG in 2020-21 with Brunei. Held around one month before the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting, the primary function of the ISG is to consider new work plans and activity proposals for confidence building measures and preventive diplomacy initiatives, which are then submitted to the Senior Officials’ Meeting for further consideration. The ISG also provides an opportunity for the co-chairs of completed ARF meetings and activities to report on the key discussions and outcomes from these events.
As the key preparatory meeting in advance of the ARF Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the Senior Officials’ Meeting (known as the SOM) plays a central role in managing the ARF process. The main functions of the SOM are to consider proposed ARF activities and meetings for the following year and 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 Ministers’ Meeting, which is usually held in July or August, in the same window as the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ and East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' meetings.
The chair of ASEAN (which rotates between ASEAN member states each year) also chairs the ARF. The principal formal ARF outcome document is the ARF Chair's Statement, which is issued at the conclusion of the ARF Foreign Ministerial Meeting.
The most recent ARF Ministerial Meeting 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.
The next ARF Ministerial Meeting will be hosted by Cambodia in August 2022.
Australia's Involvement in the ARF
Australia was a founding member of the ARF and has been an active participant in the ARF's discussions and activities ever since.
Australia actively co-sponsors ARF statements that are adopted by Ministers, for instance:
- in 2021, Australia co-sponsored the statement proposed by the 2021 ASEAN chair Brunei on Promoting the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda
- in 2020, Australia co-sponsored statements on:
- Enhancing Cooperation to Prevent and Respond to Infectious Disease Outbreaks, and
- The Treatment of Children Recruited by or Associated with Terrorist Groups
- in 2019, Australia co-sponsored statements on:
- Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism, and
- Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
- in 2018, Australia co-sponsored the statement on Disaster Management Cooperation.
Australia has also contributed to the ARF in recent years by:
- supporting ARF efforts to develop preventive diplomacy tools, including as a key drafter of the ARF Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy
- serving as co-lead, with Malaysia, of the Counter-Radicalisation priority area of the ARF Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime work stream
- co-chairing the ARF ICT Security work stream in 2021-22 with Indonesia and the Republic of Korea. Australia will co-chair again in 2023-24
- co-chairing the ARF Maritime Security work stream with Vietnam and the EU, between 2018-2021. In this role, Australia:
- hosted the 2018 Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security in Brisbane, and co-chaired the 2019 and 2021 ISMs hosted by Vietnam and the EU respectively
- co-chaired, with Malaysia and Timor Leste, an ARF workshop on Dispute Resolution and Law of the Sea (February 2020 in Dili, Timor Leste)
- co-chaired with Vietnam and the EU three ARF workshops on Enhancing Regional Maritime Law Enforcement Cooperation (January 2018 in Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 2019 in Da Nang, Vietnam, and March 2021, via videoconference)
- co-chaired, with Vietnam, two workshops on Implementing UNCLOS and other Legal Instruments to Address Emerging Maritime Issues (February 2019 in Nha Trang, Vietnam and June 2021, via videoconference)
- co-chaired, with China and Thailand, an ARF Workshop on Regional Climate Change and Coastal Disaster Mitigation (November 2018 in Tianjin, China)
ARF Related Bodies
The ARF has a 1.5 track body called the Experts and Eminent Persons group (the EEPs), which meets annually to provide advice and recommendations to ARF officials. The EEPs 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. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Department of Defence have supported the activities of the Australian Member Committee of CSCAP – AUS-CSCAP – since its establishment in 1992.
- Chairman’s Statement of the Twentyeighth ASEAN Regional Forum, video conference, 6 August 2021
- ARF Hanoi Plan of Action II (2020-25)
- Joint Statement on Promoting the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda at the ASEAN Regional Forum
- ARF Ministerial Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Prevent and Respond to Infectious Disease Outbreaks
- ARF Ministerial Statement on the Treatment of Children Recruited by or Associated with Terrorist Groups
- ARF Ministerial Statement on Cooperation in the Field of Security of and in the Use of ICTs in the Context of International Security
- ARF Ministerial Statement on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism
- ARF Ministerial Statement on Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
- ARF Ministerial Statement on Disaster Management Cooperation