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Asean meet to discuss Myanmar entry
Subject: Asean meet to discuss Myanmar entry (The Hindu, 30/11/96.)
Asean meet to discuss Myanmar entry
(The Hindu, 30/11/96.)
>From V. Jayanth
JAKARTA, Nov. 29.
Myanmar and the forthcoming first Ministerial conference of the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) are expected to dominate the
discussions 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 bid to increase the frequency of these
meetings and provide a more informal atmosphere for
consultations, Asean leaders decided on this annual exercise that
will enable them to meet without a "structured agenda" and
discuss almost anything.
Myanmar's admission into the regional grouping is expected to
be one of the major issues to be discussed. Informally, the
Asean Ministers, at their meeting 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 to 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 Alatas, conceded on
Thursday that there were differences 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 U.S. and the E.U. 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 led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, for a
genuine "national reconciliation".
Asean is not too bothered about democracy, and, as a matter of
policy, does not 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 U.S. and
increasing linkages with E.U., it is unable to brush aside their
concerns on Myanmar.
So, it is quite likely that the Asean leaders will come up with a
1998 or 1999 target for Myanmar's entry into the group and not
attach any conditions to it. But, in confidence, they may
persuade the SLORC to complete the process 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, Senior
Gen. Than Shwe, criticised the U.S. for trying to divide Asean.
Significantly, he stopped over in Singapore that day for a
luncheon meeting with its Prime Minister. Mr. Goh Chok Long.
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 finalise a strategy to steer clear of controversies and work for
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 U.S. and China, more than the
others. have expressed reservations.
The Asean's Secretary-General, Mr. Ajit Singh, says the summit
will witness "a freewheeling 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.