[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

IPS: A United Southeast Asia?

Subject: IPS: A United Southeast Asia?

/* Written  7:21 am  Jul 26, 1994 by apakabar@xxxxxxxxxxx in gn:reg.indonesia */
/* ---------- "IPS: A United Southeast Asia?" ---------- */
/* Written 11:18 PM  Jul 25, 1994 by newsdesk in igc:ips.english */
/* ---------- "ASEAN: Pursuing Dream of a United S" ---------- */
       Copyright 1994 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
          Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

                      *** 14-Jul-94 ***

Title: ASEAN: Pursuing Dream of a United South-east Asia

An Inter Press Service Feature

By Leah Makabenta

BANGKOK, Jul 14 (IPS) - This month's meeting of the Association of
South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok will be a landmark event
for the region, bringing together for the first time all 10 South-
east Asian countries which have been divided for so long by political
and ideological differences.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan has called the
gathering a rare ''historic'' moment. ''It will be the first time
that the 10 countries will meet to discuss issues such as the
environment, illegal migration, security and narcotics,'' he said.

Foreign ministers of the six ASEAN members will be meeting in
Bangkok Jul. 23-28. They will also hold talks with ASEAN's seven
dialogue partners and convene the first regional security forum.

The foreign ministers of the four other South-east Asian countries
will also be in Bangkok in different degrees of proximity to ASEAN
membership. Laos and Vietnam are coming as observers, Cambodia as
'special guest of ASEAN' and Burma as 'guest of the host country'.

A united South-east Asian community was the dream of ASEAN's
original members -- Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the
Philippines -- when they founded the group in 1967. (Brunei was
admitted in 1984.)

But conflicts over ideology kept the countries and the people
apart. Indeed the original impetus for ASEAN was to unite against
communism. The six ASEAN states kept firmly on the side of the West
against pro-communist Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Burma, ever the
maverick, followed its own autarchic and isolationist path.

The end of the Cold War, bringing with it unparalleled economic
and political changes, has revived the idea of a united South-east

While some countries in the group are keen to join ASEAN, the
complicated membership procedures and differing opinions within ASEAN
itself have delayed the process.

Thailand is now pushing the idea of the SEA-10 as an alternative
arrangement to bring the four non-ASEAN members on board.

''(The SEA-10) will be a place for all 10 South-east Asian nations
to get together while waiting to become ASEAN members,'' Surin told a
regional seminar in Manila in May.

The meeting was intended to explore the concept from an academic
perspective but was also attended by high-ranking ASEAN officials.

At the seminar, Philippine President Fidel Ramos spoke ambitiously
of a community approaching ''the model of the European Union''.

A joint declaration issued at the end of the meeting said that
given the SEA-10's shared history, culture and proximity, ''South-
east Asian should be a community''.

Surin said ASEAN officials had agreed to the creation of SEA-10
and the four non-ASEAN nations had shown interest in the idea.

''The four countries are in a challenging zone within the world's
brightest spot of economic development and we need to keep them on
board in a certain way,'' he said.

But the concept has yet to be translated into high-level policy
and Bangkok hopes this month's ASEAN talks will pave the way for a
ministerial meeting of the 10 countries later this year.

Surin said although the SEA-10 is not on the agenda of the ASEAN
ministerial meetings (AMM) in Bangkok, the 10 ministers might discuss
the topic outside the main AMM functions. He added that next year's
ASEAN summit might adopt the concept.

Observers say it is Thailand's stake in the SEA-10 idea that has
made it brave the ire of the United States, human rights activists,
Burmese exiles and its own domestic critics in inviting the
universally despised military regime in Rangoon.

In ASEAN, it has been generally acknowledged that Thailand would
take a leading role in Indochina and Burma, as a stimulator of growth
and a shaper of foreign policy with regard to the region.

Former Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan introduced the
concept of 'suannaphum' (Golden Peninsula) in 1988 aimed at
''changing the battlefields of Indochina into marketplaces''.

Thailand's rampaging economy has led the foray into the rapidly
transforming Indochinese and Burmese economies, leading to persistent
accusations of Bangkok pursuing business at the expense of peace and
human rights in those countries.

Thai military officials and legislators reacted angrily last week
to fresh U.S. charges of Thailand's alleged continued economic and
military cooperation with Cambodia's Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

Thailand fired off an intense verbal barrage against its southern
neighbour when the detention of 14 Thai citizens in Phnom Penh gave
rise to speculations of alleged Thai involvement in the recent
abortive coup in Cambodia.

More controversy is in store for Thailand with the presence of
Burmese Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw at the Bangkok's meetings, the
first time a representative of the Rangoon junta is to attend a
regional gathering.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand David Lambertson Wednesday reiterated
Washington's opposition to Burma's presence but expressed hope that
something positive would come out of Rangoon's limited participation.

''Our hope is that ... ASEAN ministers will be able to use their
influence in ways that will lead to constructive action on the part
of the Burmese government,'' Lambertson said.

Mindful perhaps that it is skating on thin ice, Bangkok has made
it clear that Burma's invitation was the lowest of the four ASEAN
guest classifications.

As 'guest of the host country', the Burmese delegation will be
attending only three functions of the AMM -- the opening ceremony,
the prime minister's dinner reception and the closing session.

The three other classifications are 'guest of the chairman of the
ASEAN standing committee', 'guest of ASEAN' and 'special guest of

Laos and Vietnam were accorded observer status because they have
ratified the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia,
the first step to ASEAN membership.

The Rangoon military regime has so far not shown an interest in
signing the treaty.

Burma expert Yindee Lertchaorenchok suggests that Rangoon is
suspicious of joining any organisation for fear of being made to
submit to regional or international scrutiny or being made to toe
organisational rules and regulations. (END/IPS/LM/LNH/94)

Origin: Manila/ASEAN/

       [c] 1994, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
                     All rights reserved

  May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or
  service outside  of  the  APC  networks,  without  specific
  permission from  IPS. This limitation includes distribution
  via  Usenet News,  bulletin board  systems, mailing  lists,
  print media and broadcast.   For more information,  send  a
  message to ips-info@xxxxxxxxxxx