ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on June 30 should salvage the ASEM Summit in Hanoi October 8-9 from being cancelled like the two ASEM Finance and Economic  Ministerial meetings because of deadlock over Myanmar repression

at the opening of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) Asia-Pacific Meeting on “Sustainable Development and Regional Co-operation in Asia Pacific”
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): The Asia-Pacific meeting of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) is the most appropriate occasion to address the latest impasse and crisis  in the promotion of greater international understanding and co-operation, particularly between  countries in Asia and Europe. 

The fifth ASEM summit between Asia and Europe scheduled to be held in Hanoi on October 8-9, 2004 hangs in the balance following the decision of the European Union (EU)  early this week  to cancel two upcoming ASEM Ministerial meetings – the sixth ASEM Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Brussels  on 6th July and the sixth ASEM Economic Ministers’ Meeting in Rotterdam on Sept. 16-17 over  the deadlock of  Myanmar’s participation because of the repression in Burma.


ASEM (the Asia-Europe Meeting) is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation which had brought together the fifteen EU Member States and the European Commission, with ten Asian countries (Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). The ASEM dialogue addresses political, economic and cultural issues, with the objective of strengthening the relationship between the  two regions, in a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership.


The first ASEM Summit was held in Bangkok in March 1996, and since then summit-level meetings had been held every two years (London in April 1998, Seoul in October 2000, Copenhagen in September 2002).

The Bangkok Summit decided that Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economics and Finance should meet to carry forward the dialogue within their respective fields, and these core Ministerial meetings were held in the years between Summits (in 1997 and 1999). At the Seoul Summit there was agreement that Ministerial meetings would be held normally once a year. Several Ministerial meetings were also held on specific subjects: a ministerial Conference on Science and Technology took place in 1999, an Environment Ministers’ meeting and a meeting of Ministers in charge of migratory flows were held in 2002. Forthcoming ASEM programmes and activities in the planning stages include an ASEM meeting of Culture Ministers in France next year, an ASEM symposium on higher education co-operation  in Malaysia or Europe at the end of the year  and an ASEM Youth Games in Thailand in October.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on June 30 should place as top priority the salvaging of  the ASEM Summit in Hanoi on October 8-9 from being cancelled like the two ASEM Finance and Economic  Ministerial meetings because of deadlock over  the Myanmar question, putting back the clock of closer co-operation and understanding between the countries in the two important continents.


The EU wants to enlarge ASEM by bringing along its 10 new member-states, while blocking Myanmar from the grouping because of the continued repression of the people of Burma by the Myanmese military junta, vividly highlighted by the continued house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Burmese Opposition Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and the farce of the ongoing  National Constitution Convention.  ASEAN however insists that the Myanmese military junta should be represented at the ASEM Summit along with the two most recent additions to ASEAN – Cambodia and Laos.


ASEAN and Asia should not allow themselves to continue to be held hostage by the Myanmese military junta to poison  their international relationships whether with Europe or the United States.


The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on June 30 should salvage the ASEM Summit in Hanoi October 8-9 from being cancelled like the two ASEM Finance and Economic  Ministerial meetings because of deadlock over Myanmar repression, and assess the success or failure of  the over a decade-old “constructive engagement” policy to  bring Myanmar into the mainstream of international relations and become  a more responsible and legitimate international player.


After more than a decade of “constructive engagement” policy, it is time for a realistic review  of its results as there can be no further  excuses or justification to hide behind  the arguments of “quiet diplomacy” or “confidence-building measures” to explain away  its failures.


A bigger diplomatic disaster awaits in the next 24 months when Myanmar is scheduled to be host of the ASEAN Summit when it takes over the rotating chair of ASEAN.


ASEAN and the international community, such as IUSY,  should take a strong stand on democracy and national reconciliation in Myanmar, including the expulsion or suspension of Myanmar from ASEAN if no general election is held in Burma by 2006, in order to avoid the diplomatic disaster of having Myanmar to host the 2006  ASEAN Summit.


The present National Convention as the first of the Myanmese military junta’s “seven step roadmap to democracy” started on May 17 is nothing but a farce, as Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest while the convention has been boycotted by the National League for Democracy (NLD). 


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has called the National Convention a “meaningless and undemocratic exercise” and said that the 1,000 hand-picked delegates meeting at a compound outside Yangon were under “mass house arrest”.


Pinheiro has been refused access to Burma a second time in three months, although he is due to present a new report on Burma to the United Nations General Assembly in July.  The special envoy of the Indonesian president, former foreign minister Ali Alatas, was refused permission to visit Burma in mid-April while the special envoy to the UN Secretary-General Tan Sri Razali Ismail was denied return to Burma before the National Convention reconvened. 


Delegates to the convention are as good as being kept in a “concentration camp”, who are threatened with  20 years’ jail if they pass information about the proceedings on to people outside the convention and if they criticize the convention or make anti-government comments.


It is no surprise therefore that the convention has been described as “little more than a political show, clumsily designed to give the government a much-needed sheen of respectability”.


The 10th ASEAN Summit will be held in Vientiane on 29th November 2004, which should address the question whether the other nine ASEAN countries  can afford to continue to have Myanmar as an albatross to poison their political, economic, social, cultural   and diplomatic relations with Europe and the rest of the world because of the intransigent and intractable Myanmese military junta refusing to reintegrate Myanmar into the mainstream of the international society and into the 21st century.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman