Foreign Ministers meet in Bali for ASEAN issues and November's East Asia Summit

As Indonesia is the chair of ASEAN for 2011, its President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, opened the 44th meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers today in Bali. About 27 foreign ministers are in attendance from ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), including Hilary Clinton, USA Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov.

The foreign ministers will meet for a week to discuss issues of importance to the South East Asian nations, particularly in the lead-up to the creation of the ASEAN Community in 2015 and also to prepare for the November meetings of the 19th ASEAN Summit and 18-nation East Asia Summit which will be attended by USA President Barack Obama.

This week's meeting is expected to bring the regional grouping and China closer step to finalising a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, according to a draft of joint communique of the meeting obtained by Kyodo News.

It shows ASEAN and China have begun discussion on the Code of Conduct "by building upon the momentum of the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations" which falls this year. In the same draft, both sides are also expected to repeat the calls on all parties to respect the freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea as provided for by the principles of international law.

The Indonesian government has also announced that it proposes to discuss the implementation of a "unified ASEAN travel visa" to ease travel within the region for citizens of ASEAN member states.

"When the ASEAN visa is implemented, one visa will be needed to visit the region, which is good for tourism," Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told media. "We have to consider the laws and rules of each country. Besides, we are still learning what effects may come from the ASEAN visa, as far as safety and politics," he said.

The Indonesian government may also organise a month-long ASEAN Fair in Nusa Dua, Bali, latter this year as part of efforts to promote the ASEAN Community, presumably to run alongside the events in November.

Indonesian Trade Ministry Secretary-General Ardiansyah Parman said the fair "will include music and food festivals, theatrical performances, and book and handicrafts expos".