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Asean defers decision on Myanmar (T

Subject: Asean defers decision on Myanmar (The Hindu, 2/12/96.)

Asean defers decision on Myanmar
The Hindu, 2/12/96.
>From V. jayanth
JAKARTA, Dec. 1.
In keeping with its spirit of 'consensus and compromise', the 
Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) politely deferred a 
decision on Myanmar's admission. Even if a decision was taken 
by its leaders, they kept it to themselves to announce in "due 
By opting to admit Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar together 
later, the Asean fended off pressure from the West over 
democracy and human rights -- two issues that are not Asean's 
criteria for membership.
The Asean had thus managed to close its ranks on subtle 
differences over the issue and conveyed a signal to the West 
that it was not going back on its policy of 'constructive 
engagement' with the military junta in Myanmar.
During the annual Asean Ministerial Meeting here in July, 
leaders from Cambodia and Laos gave the impression that they 
would be admitted in July 1997 at the Kuala Lumpur meeting. 
And when 1 met the Cambodian First Prime Minister, Prince 
Norodom Ranariddh, in Phnom Penh two months ago. he spoke 
of the same deadline in preparations to join the Asean and the 
challenges it posed.
But the Asean leaders yesterday made it appear that they had 
not set any time frame but wanted to admit the three countries 
"simultaneously", to realise the vision of Southeast Asia -- 10.
Even if it does not mean caving in to the Western pressure, the 
decision indicated that the informal summit was a blessing 
because there was no structured agenda and the discussions 
were "totally informal."
While accompanying Ministers and officials were in their suits, 
the Southeast Asian leaders were characteristically clad in their 
jazzy silken shirts with batik designs.
Sources said both in the bilateral meetings and the informal 
meeting, Myanmar was gently told to go ahead with the 
finalisation of Constitution and possibly hold a general election 
as soon as possible. Since the perception was that the junta 
lacked a mandate and hence open to criticism, the holding of an 
election could negate that. If there was some 'trouble' on that 
road, things could be reviewed.
But the real surprise was how the East Tiomr issue moved to 
the top of the ladder. It was the first time that the Asean was 
openly commenting on a bilateral issue that was threatening to 
hurt Asean-European Union ties.
Though essentially a dispute between Indonesia and Portugal, 
the latter, according to Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Ali 
Alatas, was making it a question in Asean-EU relations. East 
Tiomr was now being mentioned in EU Foreign Ministers' 
meetings, direct aid was being talked of and Portugal had taken 
the stand that unless this question was resolved. the Asean-EU 
agreement on co-operation that lapsed in 1990 should not be 
That is why the other Asean leaders agreed to stand by Mr. 
Suharto and try to keep the East Timor issue on the bilateral 
platform and on the tripartite talks sponsored by the U.N. The 
Malaysian Premier, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, even warned that 
the annual dialogue between the Asean and the ELI would be in 
doubt next year if Portugal and the EU insisted on sticking to 
the East Timor controversy.
In February 1997, the Foreign Ministers of the Asean and the 
EU will meet in Singapore, when the Asia Europe (Asem) 
Ministerial meeting will also take place.
The conflict in the South China Sea. over the Spratly islands. 
has become a standard issue to be discussed and listed in all 
Asean meetings and statements. Yesterday was no exception.
But the President of the Philippines, Mr. Fidel Ramos, was 
happy to report on his personal talks with the visiting Chinese 
President, Mr. Jiang Zemin, recently. He told a press conference 
last night that Mr. Jiang had promised not only to honour the 
U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, but also go by Asean's 
declaration on the South China Sea, calling for a peaceful 
resolution of the conflict.