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Subdued reaction from South-East As

Subject: Subdued reaction from South-East Asia (The Hindu)

Subdued reaction from South-East Asia 
Date: 10-05-1999 :: Pg: 16 :: Col: e 

News Source:  THE HINDU By P. S. Suryanarayana 

SINGAPORE, MAY 9. The mainstream South East Asian States have by and large
refrained from reacting instantly to the U.S.-led NATO missile strike on the
Chinese embassy in Belgrade. 

While several key members of the Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) seek a strategic understanding with the U.S., they are no less
sensitive about the diplomatic mood and methods of China. That accounts for
this region's subdued initial reaction of neither a criticism of the U.S.
nor empathy with China. 

Of the mainstream South East Asian States, as distinct from Myanmar and the
Indo-China States whose diplomatic engagement with the U.S. is not very
vigorous, Thailand is at present somewhat estranged with Washington over the
latter's opposition to Bangkok's candidate for the post of Director General
of the World Trade Organisation. This accounts for the country's
circumspection over the bombing. Even on the larger question of the
U.S.-guided NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, Bangkok had given some thought
to the possible alternative of a U.N. banner for such an operation. 

During a recent visit to China, the Thai Prime Minister, Mr. Chuan Leekpai,
is understood to have resisted Beijing's suggestions for a more vigorous
appraisal of the U.S.-led action against a sovereign State without the U.N.
approval. Bangkok's diplomatic compulsions in this regard are dictated by
the facts of Thailand being home to a sizable Muslim population and the U.S.
projecting its mission as a boon for the Kosovo- Albanian Muslims. 

Malaysia, which welcomed the NATO air strikes against Serbia and suggested
that the organisation should launch a ground war against Mr. Slobodan
Milosevic, is in no position to take a particularly dim view of the attack
on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, given especially the apology tendered by
the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, and the NATO's insistence that the
Chinese were hit in a ``tragic mistake.'' 

For Jakarta, still in the throes of a crisis of a political transformation
at home, the latest American blunder in the Balkans is primarily an issue to
be weighed against the basic Indonesian position about the unacceptability
of any infraction of national sovereignty, a line that was taken in regard
to the NATO's overall military strikes against Yugoslavia. 

Singapore, with a Chinese majority population, is close to the U.S. and keen
about a correct equation with Beijing. 

The Philippines, which had forced the U.S. to wind up its military bases
several years ago, is now seeking a strategic entente of sorts with
Washington, especially in the context of China's perceived new militarism on
the Mischief Reef in the Spratlys. Significantly, Manila is at present
drafting a diplomatic code for consideration by the ASEAN and China. If
adopted, this will commit both sides to the principle of avoiding the use of
force to settle the Spratlys dispute between China and several South East
Asian States. Manila intends to present this draft to the ASEAN soon.