Despite the shadow cast by Myanmar, there were many other good news about ASEAN as it seals new cooperation pact with China, Japan, S. Korea, laying down for the first time the principles of cooperation and a work plan outlining priority areas of such cooperation.
It sets down the principles for cooperation 'in accordance with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia and the universally recognised principles of international laws' and outlines the priority areas of cooperation, including a new package of programmes, especially the ASEAN + 3 cooperation fund.
In his opening remarks to the ASEAN + 3 meeting (21 Nov), Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that in pursuing their cooperation projects, the partners must 'uphold the principle of open regionalism' and called the cooperation 'a critical piece of the overall regional architecture'. Japanese spokesman Mitsuo Sakaba described the new initiatives as a 'positive development of the Asean+3 cooperation'.
Aside from the multilaterals, at the ASEAN-China summit yesterday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged the two sides to speed up negotiations in order to reach an early agreement on the China-Asean free trade area (which is expected to be completed by 2010) while both sides signed a memorandum of understanding on food safety.
ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, explained: "Under this [food safety] agreement, (for) Chinese products coming into ASEAN... we will work with a kind of safety measure... and ASEAN products to China will also have to measure up on food safety. "It's a good document to have, it's a good area of cooperation, because we have increased our exports to China and they have also increased their exports to ASEAN, and more and more of our consumers would rely on what has been certified and approved by our relevant authorities."
Japan also scored big with ASEAN. "The leaders welcomed the successful conclusion of the negotiations for the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement," a joint statement released after the meeting said. "The leaders expressed confidence that the agreement will provide a strong impetus for further invigoration of trade and investment."
90 percent of trade between the world's second largest economy and the Southeast Asian bloc will be tariff-free within 10 years. "The economic partnership between Japan and ASEAN is comprehensive, covering not only cutting tariffs on products but also many other areas such as service, investment and economic cooperation," a Japanese official said. "In that sense, Japan is not behind moves by China andSouth Korea." "The vision of a trade pact among ASEAN and the six nations is slowly coming together," said a Japanese trade official who asked not to be named.
Korea is also keen to step up cooperation with ASEAN. At the ASEAN-Korea bilateral, a Memorandum of Understanding on establishing the ASEAN-ROK Centre to promote economic and sociocultural ties between the two sides was signed. The Centre will hold events such as seminars, trade fairs, and exhibitions as well as cultural exchanges.
At the 3rd East Asia Summit which brought together the ASEAN + 3 countries plus Australia, New Zealand and India, rising oil prices and inflation, renewable energy and climate change were the central focus of the discussion. A declaration pledging actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change was signed at the end of the half day meeting. The Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment would pave the way for the important UN meeting in Bali in December.
Climate change and renewable energy was also the central focus of the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit on 22 Nov besides the Myanmar issue. ASEAN is keen to tap EU’s know how on dealing with environmental and climate change issues. As ASEAN’s 2nd largest trade partner, EU is also keen to begin negotiations with ASEAN on a free trade area. As expected, the situation in Myanmar could become a stumbling block for the free trade negotiations to begin in May. But both sides have presented a united front on Myanmar noting that both shared the same goal of pushing Myanmar towards national reconciliation and moving towards political reforms towards a democratic country though they may some differences in ideas on how to achieve this, particularly on the issue of sanctions. (23 November 2007)
Asean and EU share common goal for Myanmar (Straits Times, 23 November 2007)
Japan, ASEAN welcome new trade deal (Channelnewsasia, 21 November 2007)
Fukuda, Wen agree to speed gas-field talks (Japan Times, 21 November 2007)
Asean seals new cooperation pact with China, Japan, S. Korea (Straits Times, 21 November 2007)
China, Japan to hold dialogue (Straits Times, 21 November 2007)
More room for ties between ASEAN and China to grow: PM (Channelnewsasia, 21 November 2007)
$30m more from S'pore for integration (Straits Times, 21 November 2007)
Activists condemn Asean on Burma deal (Nation, 21 November 2007)
In Singapore , Burma activists keep within the law (Nation, 21 November 2007)
Myanmar spoils the party (Jakarta Post, 20 November 2007)
Myanmar a reason for ASEAN to move on (Jakarta Post, 20 November 2007)
Activists attack ASEAN on lack of Myanmar pressure (Reuters, 20 November 2007)
US warns Asean over Burma stance (Financial Times, 20 November 2007)
EU envoy discusses Myanmar sanctions with Bush administration (AP, 19 November 2007)