Asian leaders intensify efforts for a nuclear-weapon-free zone

Last week's superpower summit has emboldened leaders of six noncommunist nations in Southeast Asia to push harder for a nuclear-free zone in their region. The six leaders, who ended a two-day summit in Manila yesterday, agreed to ``intensify'' efforts for a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

Such a zone has been long sought by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which includes Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines. Until now, the group has made little headway, says Philippines Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, because ``neutralization is not possible without agreement of the superpowers to respect neutrality.''

But warmer relations between Moscow and Washington, including the recent arms agreement, has re-opened the possibility of some movement on a nuclear-free zone.

Other recent developments have encouraged the ASEAN leaders, according to officials.

New Zealand and a group of South Pacific nations, for example, have approved nuclear-free policies.

Also, a new Constitution in the Philippines seeks to make the country nuclear-free. Next year, Manila opens talks with Washington on whether to retain two large United States military bases, presumed by Filipino officials to be transit points for nuclear weapons.

At the summit, Philippine President Corazon Aquino called on her fellow ASEAN leaders to ``enlighten'' her government on the issue of regional security, reminding them indirectly that by playing host to the US bases, the Philippines contributes to securing air space and sea lanes in Southeast Asia.

The US strongly opposes ASEAN's nuclear-free zone idea, and ASEAN leaders say such a zone would need to include other regional countries, including Vietnam, which now allows Soviet warships and bombers to use facilities left behind by the Americans.

Seeking a nuclear-free zone, says Mr. Manglapus, is a long process. ``And in the meantime,'' he adds, ``we do have to face the reality of the [US] military facilities here. If the option of retaining them is chosen, we will have to find a modus vivendi by which the facilities can continue alongside our policy on neutrality and nuclear weapons free zone.''

In addition to the nuclear question, the summit also achieved agreements to increase economic cooperation between ASEAN states by lowering trade barriers and allowing more intra-ASEAN investment.

At this first ASEAN summit in ten years, the group took ``stock of its basic principles and policies,'' said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

It also served to bolster the troubled Aquino government by being held in Manila despite threats from right-wing groups to disrupt the meeting. Amid massive security, the summit was not marred by violence.

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