Singapore suggests Myanmar forego ASEAN chair
Singapore, June 9, 2005|19:02 IST
Singapore, Southeast Asia's wealthiest nation, suggested on Thursday that military-ruled Myanmar forego its chairmanship of the ASEAN grouping next year because of international concerns over its human rights record.
The United States and the European Union have threatened to boycott high-level meetings with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) if Myanmar takes the rotating chairmanship without making progress on human rights, including freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In an article in the Financial Times, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said that ASEAN foreign ministers agreed at a a meeting in April that the organisation should not take away the chairmanship from any country, but Myanmar had assured the grouping that it would take ASEAN's interest into account.
"ASEAN foreign ministers took this to mean that Myanmar would voluntarily forego its turn to chair. This would be a good solution," Yeo wrote. His office refused to elaborate.
Singapore is the largest exporter to Myanmar and its second-largest trading partner after Thailand, according to official Myanmar data.
At a security conference in Singapore at the weekend, Myanmar hinted it may be working on an alternative solution.
Asked whether Myanmar would give in to international pressure and relinquish the ASEAN chair, Myanmar Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Maung Myint told Reuters that the country is "preparing another situation". He declined to elaborate.
The issue has threatened the unity of ASEAN, with some countries opposing Myanmar's chairmanship unless it shows concrete progress in implementing a roadmap to democracy.
Diplomats say a Myanmar chair could isolate and diminish ASEAN as the U.S. and Europe would stay away from key meetings and switch to bilateral contacts with member states.
"If Myanmar were to chair the ASEAN, we would not engage as much with the organisation, but we would remain engaged with individual member states," a U.S. embassy official told Reuters.
Tim Huxley, Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that matters of pride make it very difficult for Myanmar to forego the chair.
"If they did become chairman, this would be presented internally as reaffirming the legitimacy of the regime and the fact that the regime has an important role to play regionally."
Huxley added that it was very unlikely that Myanmar would leave the grouping which it only joined in 1997.
"ASEAN is an alternative to complete reliance on China, and it opens up economic cooperation with Southeast Asia," he said.
On Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told a parliamentary hearing that his feeling from the April meeting of foreign ministers in the Philippines island of Cebu was that Myanmar would probably not take its turn.
"We openly said (to Myanmar) that when the situation in your country is ready, you will not need to wait until the other nine get their chairmanship turns. Just slip in," he said.
Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said on Thursday that whether Myanmar took its turn would depend on the progress of its political reforms.
"If Myanmar were to postpone the chairmanship, we hope that the postponement would not have to be too long. If real progress can take place, then Myanmar will not have to wait another 10 years to become chairman," Kantathi told reporters in Bangkok.
ASEAN -- home to 500 million people -- is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The chairmanship rotates in alphabetical order and is now held by Laos, where ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in July. Wirajuda said he expected a decision on the issue there.
(Additional reporting by Darren Schuettler in Bangkok)
AND IN THE BLUE CORNER...
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore firm has won a $10.6 million deal to expand the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar.
Singapore information technology company CNA Group said in a statement that under the deal, the firm will design and install engineering systems at Yangon airport.
Myanmar said in January that with $1.57 billion for 72 projects, Singapore tops the list of the 25 foreign investor countries in Myanmar. According to official data from Myanmar, Singapore is the largest exporter to Myanmar, and its second-largest trading partner after Thailand.
"If we don't take their money someone else will."
Come on George, the Straits Jacket is prepared to ignore such glaring faults in the on-going story of the raltionship between the two countries, but surely you are aware of them. Or is it an attempt at denying the continuous, 'constructive engagment', filling your metaphorical pockets, and pointing a finger of accusation at the same time, position. John Pilger in his book, 'Hidden Agendas', refers to drug lords' "Ling Ming-xian and Lo Hsing-han, who run most of the multi-million-dollar drugs trade from Burma, frequently visited Singapore and had established companies there 'as a way of possibly laundering drug money'[Bangkok Nation, 1996]."
"Singapore is by far the most important 'back door'"(Pilger 1999)for Burma. Pilger also argues that the arms industry is a speciality for Singapore. How far would Singapore go? In 1988, when the majority of the Burmese population were on the streets in a popular protest against SLORC(The junta), the Burmese Army was running out of bullets...
Go on George Yeo, I bet you can guess which country stepped in to help the junta with ammunition.
The concerns expressed by George Yeo seem to be premised on a fear of weakening economic ASEAN and US, European economic ties. Then again it could have been negotiated during the recent visit to Burma that Singapore becomes Burma's PR consultant. How much is the Singaporean government charging?
"If we don't take their money someone else will."