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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 
trade liberalisation. 
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.