[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
STANDARD NEWS (10/12/95)
ASIA: ASEAN MEETS TO PLOT NUCLEAR-FREE, PROSPEROUS REGION
ASEAN PREVIEW (FEATURE)
By Peter Eng of The Associated Press
BANGKOK, AP - For the first time, the leaders of all 10
Southeast Asian nations gather later this week with visions of a
region free of nuclear weapons, abuzz with trade, and unified in
searching for economic prosperity.
Just a few years ago, Southeast Asia was divided by politics and
economics into three blocs: the anti-communist Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, communist Indochina, and isolationist
But with the Cold War over, the leaders of Burma, Cambodia and
Laos are meeting for the first time together with the heads of the
seven ASEAN nations - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, which joined ASEAN in July.
All the outcasts now know that ASEAN offers international
respectability, political clout, and perhaps most importantly,
participation in one of the world's most remarkable economic booms.
In a recent survey by the weekly magazine Far Eastern Economic
Review, most business executives said ASEAN offered better
prospects for 1996 than any other region.
It will be the fifth ASEAN summit since the group was founded in
1967. The leaders meet on Thursday and Friday (December 14 and 15),
following talks among senior officials.
They will focus on economics and politics, but this time also
will discuss cooperation in new "social" fields, including
environmental protection, education, and drug abuse and trafficking
The centrepiece of the summit is the signing of the Southeast
Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaty, which took 10 years to
prepare. That will extend ASEAN's involvement in framing post-Cold
War regional security, following its first regional security talks
High on the agenda will be speeding the way for the three
outsiders to join ASEAN by the turn of the century. This is "a
strategic development because this is what we have wanted all
along", said Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.
Some people concerned about Burma's human rights record say
ASEAN is embracing its military government too quickly.
Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans says ASEAN should
pressure Burma's government to start a dialogue with pro-democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
To press for talks, Suu Kyi's party has just pulled out of a
government-controlled constitutional convention.
Perhaps to forestall any incidents during the summit, Thai
police recently have been arresting Burmese dissidents exiled in
Burma is not the only country destabilised by government
repression of dissidents. That is happening in Cambodia, 2 1/2
years after a UN-organised election that ASEAN strongly supported.
Recent violent incidents involving fishermen from Thailand,
Burma and Malaysia are evidence that all is not rosy among
Southeast Asian nations. Vietnam, poor and in an awkward transition
to a market economy, already has missed deadlines for ASEAN's
tariff reduction plans.
The nuclear-free zone treaty prohibits the possession,
manufacture or acquisition of nuclear weapons.
It does allow the passage of foreign warships without requiring
them to state if they are carrying nuclear weapons.
None of the Southeast Asian nations is anywhere near capable of
producing nuclear weapons. They expect the five declared nuclear
powers - the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China - to
accede to the treaty's protocol.
Philippine Senator Juan Ponce Enrile recently was quoted as
cautioning that the treaty is not clear on what is and is not
allowed, and might constrain the United States from helping the
Philippines in case of an attack.
ASEAN leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to
establishing an ASEAN Free Trade Area by 2003 by reducing import
tariffs to five per cent at most.
They also will consider proposals to include in the free trade
area intellectual property rights and trade in services, including
finance, telecommunications, transportation, and business services.
It now covers only manufacturing and agricultural products.
Driving these proposals is the realisation that global
competition is heating up, with challenges from India, China, the
European Union, and the United States.
The summit will endorse a plan, reached last month, for
cooperation in attracting investment into the region.
"Before, each country spoke about their own opportunities. The
emphasis of this plan is to inform the world of the attractiveness
of ASEAN as a region," said Melito Salazar, vice chairman of the
Philippine Board of Investment.
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah wants the deadline for free
trade advanced to 2000. Indonesia opposes that, and even wants to
withdraw agricultural goods from the agreement. Agricultural
Minister Baharsyah Syarifuddin said 26 agricultural commodities are
grown mainly by small farmers, and they must be protected.
Australia, along with New Zealand, Canada, European Community,
Japan, South Korea and the United States, has the official status
of dialogue partner with ASEAN.