[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
News on Indian Paper
The Hindu: Asean meet to discuss Myanmar entry
>From V. Jayanth
Myanmar and the forthcoming first Ministerial conference of the World
Trade Organization (WTO) are excepted to dominate the discussion at the
first informal summit of the seven leaders of Asean countries here on
Saturday. The concept of an informal summit is itself an innovation,
announced at the last summit in Bangkok in December 1995. Till now, the
Southeast Asian leaders have met formally only once in three years. In a
bit to increase the frequency of these meetings and provide a more formal
atmosphere for consultations, Asean leaders decided on this exercise that
will enable them to meet without a "structured agenda" and discuss almost
Myanmar's admission into regional grouping is excepted to be the one of
the major issues to be discussed. Informally, the Asean Ministers, at
their in the Philippines last week, agreed to defer Yangon's admission
for the time being as there were differences among the seven-member-states.
Though the Asean would like to consider this as no more an issue than the
others that will come up for deliberation, there is no denying the fact
that Myanmar has become not only a sensitive issue but has also acquired
a political dimension.
The Philippines, Thailand and Singapore have already expressed their view
that Asean must not rush with Myanmar's entry and try club it along with
the admission of Laos and Cambodia next July. Brunei and Vietnam have
refrained from making any statement, while Malaysia and Indonesia want to
bring in Yangon along with the other two to achieve the Asean vision of
Southeast Asia-10, even by 1997.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ali Alstas, conceded on Thursday
that there were differenced in perception on Myanmar. But he hastened to
add that these differences were only over the timing of its entry because
it was known that Myanmar would eventually join the group and had been
granted Observer status in July this year. He said the leaders could
discuss the question and agree on a deadline for Yangon's entry.
The issue acquired a new dimension with a sustained campaign by the US
and the EU to persuade Asean not to rush into admitting a military junta,
but to use its economic influence to nudge the military leaders to open a
dialogue with the pro-democracy movement lad by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, for
a genuine "National Reconciliation".
Asean is not too bothered about democracy, and, as a matter of policy,
doesn't want to interfere in the "internal affairs" of any country. But a
stage has been reached when it is unable to desist from some kind of an
initiative to get the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) as
the junta calls itself- to adopt some kind of a political-democratic
system to earn credibility. Because of Asean's close ties with the US and
increasing linkages with EU, it is unable to brush aside their concerns
So, it is quite likely that the Asean leaders will come up with a 1998 or
1999 target for Myanmar's entry to group and not attach any conditions to
it. But, in confidence, they may persuade the Slorc to complete the
preceded of drafting a new constitution and holding an election before
that. Before arriving here on Thursday for the meeting, the Myanmarese
Prime Minister and Chairman of Slorc, Sen. Gen. Than Shwe, criticized the
US for trying to divide Asean. Significantly, he stopped over in
Singapore that day for a luncheon meeting with its Prime Minister, Mr Goh
Chok Tong, in an attempt to sort out any differences in perception.
A senior official from the Myanmarese delegation said "It is for Asean to
decide when we should join. We are keen and we are ready. We understand
that Asean's policy does not provide for any interference in the internal
affairs of its members. WE would like Asean to come to its own decision
and not be influenced by Western powers who want to influence the region."
The WTO is another key issue to be discussed on Saturday. There is near
unanimity among Asean members to keep out "contentious" or non-trade
related issues out of the conference to be held in Singapore in 10 days.
Leaders of the region are expected to review the situation after their
APEC summit last week in the Philippines. They are likely to finalize a
strategy to steer clear of controversies and work for trade liberalization.
Asean sources say the region would like to focus on the implementation of
the Uruguay Round commitments so that the developing countries can reap
the benefits of those decisions. Another issue that may be discussed is
the lack of progress on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
agreement that was signed by the 10 countries in this region last
December in Bangkok. Despite efforts, Asean has been unable to persuade
the five nuclear powers to initial an annexure to this treaty to make it
meaningful. But the US and China, more than the others, have expressed
The Asean's secretary-general, Mr. Ajit Singh, says the summit will
witness "a free-wheeling discussion" in a relaxed atmosphere, with no
pressure on the leaders to deliver any result or commitment at the end of
the one-day meeting.