Southeast Asian finance ministers
are worried that terrorism could damage their countries' fragile economies. Their
meeting in the Philippines is being overshadowed by Tuesday's bombing of a hotel
Indonesia's finance minister canceled his trip to the meeting of Association
of Southeast Asian Nations' finance ministers, to help his government respond
to Tuesday's terrorist bombing in Jakarta.
The attack killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 100 others. The
ASEAN finance ministers Wednesday acknowledged that such attacks could inflict
long-term damage on investor confidence in the region.
In her welcoming speech, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo rallied ASEAN
to take a firmer stance on security issues. "The war against terrorism in the
region must be pursued without let up through more intensive, multilateral operation," she
The venue for the two-day meeting is itself a reminder of the region's security
issues. It is being held in Manila's Makati district, just a short distance
from where more than 300 Philippine military personnel commandeered a building
in a mutiny last week.
Regional finance ministers are expected to discuss ways to tighten financial
controls and cut off the flow of funds to terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah.
JI is suspected of involvement in last October's Bali bombing that killed
202 people. The group appears to have ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Although Indonesian police have not yet named any suspects in Tuesday's bombing,
many terrorism experts say JI may be to blame.
The annual ASEAN finance meeting also will focus on regional trade and finance
issues, such as smoothing out customs regulations and establishing a regional
bond market to attract international capital.
The finance ministers plan to discuss the dilemma they face as China emerges
as an economic superpower.
China's ability to undercut production costs in the region has caused direct
investment in Southeast Asia to plunge, especially from the United States.
But in the longer run, rising Chinese purchasing power creates opportunities
for Southeast Asian exporters. Some Southeast Asian financial leaders want tighter
integration with China, arguing that a large Asian trading bloc is needed to
offset the power of the United States and the European Union.
ASEAN finance ministers hope to integrate member nations into a regional
free-trade zone by the year 2020.