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Myanmar’s Chairmanship of ASEAN: The Way Forward in Yangon

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24 Jan Myanmar’s Chairmanship of ASEAN: The Way Forward in Yangon

As Myanmar begins its year as ASEAN chair, it will to deal with a whole gamut of issues facing the organisation. Given that this is its first time chairing the regional body, the international community will closely watch its performance.

Gearing up for a full year of meetings

Myanmar has just hosted the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Retreat in Bagan, and it will have to hold over 240 such regional meetings this year, which will be a lot of work for the newly opening country. However, it can count on the goodwill of the international community. As a country in transition, the international community is willing to give Myanmar all the support it needs to steer its chairmanship in the right direction.

Main themes for Myanmar’s chairmanship year

Myanmar plans to keep up the momentum on the discussions over the Code of Conduct for South China Sea. It is a non-claimant in the dispute and has traditionally had warm relations with China, meaning it may be trusted as an “honest broker”; Thailand, which is the coordinator for Sino-ASEAN relations this year, shares a similar advantage. The new ASEAN chair will also need to prepare for the deadline of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. Although Malaysia will oversee its official launch, Myanmar will have to lay the groundwork this year.

Keeping priorities focused

Myanmar must not waste this goodwill. It is in Myanmar’s best interests to aim for a smooth, drama-free chairmanship. It will need to keep its focus on the core issues facing ASEAN today, and not waste its time and energy on less significant issues.
If Myanmar can sustain its focus, the international community will do its utmost to help it succeed. With the support of its fellow members of ASEAN, Myanmar’s chairmanship has every chance of being a success.

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) co-hosted a conference on 18 January titled Myanmar’s Chairmanship of ASEAN: The Way Forward in Yangon. Participants, who came from the ASEAN-ISIS network of think tanks, discussed issues pertinent to Myanmar’s Chairmanship of ASEAN, including the South China Sea and the great power rivalry over Asia, the East Asia Summit and the G20, the ASEAN Economic Community, and the ASEAN Charter.