Foreign Ministers from ten Southeast Asian nations began a week of security meetings in Vietnam today. The regional leaders will be joined by counterparts from Asia Pacific and Western nations and concerns are expected to be raised about North Korea and Burma.
During four days of meetings, foreign ministers will discuss improving regional security and other forms of cooperation among themselves, as well as with other Asian and Western nations.
The ASEAN forum is viewed as a confidence-building mechanism that makes few, if any, binding decisions.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung gave the opening address. He said ASEAN has a crucial role to play in maintaining peace in the Asia Pacific.
"Maintaining peace and security in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific is the oldest desire and strident determination of all ASEAN members states, as well as other countries in the Asia Pacific region ASEAN should demonstrate its stability and role as a leading force for the promotion of dialogue and cooperation on the political and security issues for the sake of peace, prosperity and security in the region," he said.
The ten ASEAN members are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Southeast Asian nations will hold bilateral meetings throughout the week.
On Friday, ASEAN ministers will meet with counterparts from 17 other nations, including China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Australia, Canada, the European Union, India, New Zealand and the United States.
During the meetings, concerns are expected to be raised about tensions with North Korea and Burma, who also have representatives attending.
South Korea blames the North for the sinking of a navy ship in March.
An international investigation concluded a North Korean torpedo struck the ship, killing 46 sailors on board. North Korea denies it was responsible and continues to defy international demands to stop its nuclear program.
ASEAN is opposed to North Korea's nuclear development. But ministers are not expected to make any strong statements directed at Pyongyang about the ship sinking.
Concerns about Burma, another authoritarian country suspected of having nuclear ambitions, are also expected to be discussed.
Burma's plans for elections sometime this year, the first in two decades, have been heavily criticized as a sham designed to keep the military in power.
Rights groups have urged ASEAN to condemn the election preparations and refuse to recognize their results. But ASEAN maintains a policy of non-interference and has been reluctant to criticize Burma.