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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 
on Myanmar.

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.