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The Nation-EU's firm stand on Burma

Subject: The Nation-EU's firm stand on Burma is to be lauded

The Nation May 27, 1999.
Editorial & Opinion

EDITORIAL: EU's firm stand on Burma is to be lauded

THE just-concluded Asean-EU joint committee meeting brought home the truth
that Asean cannot get away with its mistakes all the time. The European
Union's continued tough stand over Burma's dismal human rights record is
laudable. One could easily question the EU's motive for proceeding with the
joint committee meeting after a delay of two years, but the outcome did
demonstrate that it has continued to stick to its previous policy. This is

If the EU's obdurate stand on Burma hurts Asean, so be it. Only when Asean
hurts as a group will its members address the issue in a more serious way.

Obviously, those Asean countries which signed the 1980 agreement with the EU
are eligible for EU assistance, which is the most generous among all Asean
dialogue partners. But without EU approval, they cannot utilise the money.
The two-year delay has already caused a lot of damage to overall EU
assistance to Asean.

In a way, this week's meeting, which allowed Burma to take part as a
non-signatory country, was a face-saving one which has allowed Asean and the
EU to further their cooperation. It went well because the Asean members
realise that the EU is a very important donor group. If anything, Asean
understands well that the EU concern over Burma will not go away and should
be addressed in their discussions.

The EU will release funds for at least two dozen development projects in
various Asean countries, including Thailand and Indonesia. The cash-strapped
Asean countries want foreign funds to help with their social development and
other long-term programmes related to capacity-building and the environment,
to which other dialogue partners are not as committed as the EU.

The meeting also put strains on the non-signatory countries, particularly
Laos. Vientiane had pledged to Rangoon that they would become signatories to
the Asean-EU agreement at the same time. The two have already notified the
Asean chairman that they would like to accede to the cooperation agreement.
Given the present political situation in Burma, it seems likely that Laos
will be the only one of the two to do so. Hardest hit by the economic

tail-spin, Vientiane, like Bangkok and Jakarta, needs foreign assistance and
access to the European market.

In a nutshell, the EU's policy towards Burma is working. At the very least,
the EU made clear its resolve to see improvements within Burma. If Asean
continues to stay on the sidelines, it may find that its pressing economic
difficulties will further widen the differences between its members,
especially those who want to proceed without waiting for Burma and those who
want to wait.

EU pressure alone will not be sufficient for positive changes in Burma.
Others must help, especially Japan and China. Japan provides the largest
humanitarian assistance to the Rangoon military regime in the hope that its
middle-of-the road approach and generous aid will bring about change. It is
a false hope.

China also needs to do more on Burma, if it wants to be respected and
integrated with the rest of the region. Beijing should not allow itself to
be perceived as the only country that helps the pariah state to stand up.
Western pressure on Burma will not convince China to change its policy
towards Rangoon. But, if combined with a firm Asean stance that China limits
its engagement with the junta, then Beijing might be inclined to listen.
Only through the combined efforts of all countries wanting to see democracy
and civilised rule in Burma can changes take place.

Most people hope the EU will not waver on its obdurate position on Burma. In
the meantime