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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.