ASEAN updates – more meetings and still more protests in Myanmar

Updated On: Aug 24, 2007

Mounting public anger over massive fuel price hike has protestors took to the streets in Yangon.

Two protests, led by the leaders of the pro-democracy 88 Generation (students were at the forefront of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising), have broken out this week. This was reminiscent of the 1988 uprising triggered by public protests over rising prices, massive currency devaluation and economic hardships.  The junta was quick to react arresting all 13 prominent pro-democracy activists.  The detainees could face up to 20 years in prison.

However, this did not stop another 300 protesters from walking around the outskirts of Yangon, encouraging onlookers to join them. The march was stopped only when a mob of pro-junta supporters attacked them with heavy sticks and took at least six protestors.

On Thursday (23 August), in defiance against the arrest, about 50 activists from the National League for Democracy walked along Shwegondine Road for about 3 kilometres before being stopped by a pro-junta mob of about 60 people. The activists were beaten and some of them were taken away in trucks to unknown destinations.

Nonetheless, some analysts believed Myanmar is likely to continue to get away with its heavy-handed repression. Bangkok-based Myanmar specialist, Larry Jagan told the Straits Times that “the protests will spread to other cities but it is still far from a popular uprising  and that a real massive uprising”.  The junta’s monopoly on the energy sector also meant it is enriching itself and may just have the resources to continue the quell the unrest.  While the protests over massive fuel hikes continue, a government official said that Myanmar is likely to sell natural gas from its A-1 and A-3 blocks to China. The director general for energy planning at the Myanmar Ministry of Energy, U Soe Myint told Dow Jones Newswires, “they [China] are much more advanced than the other parties [in offers].” The two blocks are estimated to contain 4.53 trillion-7.74 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

China has also announced that it would build a crude oil pipeline from Myanmar’s western port of Sittwe to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province. The pipeline is expected to reduce shipping cost for China’s oil import.

While recent developments in Myanmar remain largely negative, ASEAN continues with its business as usual with several meetings taking place simultaneously.  At the inaugural ASEAN Energy Ministers meeting in Singapore, the member states agreed to look into concluding a memorandum of understanding that will pave the way for establishing an ASEAN Power Grid that could help countries share electricity across borders for greater energy security. 

Singapore's proposal for a Nuclear Energy Safety Subsector Network Agreement was also endorsed at the Energy Ministers meeting. The actual agreement would be signed at the subsequent meeting inBangkok next year.  The proposal comes at a time when several of the ASEAN members have announced plans for nuclear energy. Malaysia also recently announced plans to set up Southeast Asia's first nuclear monitoring laboratory, funded by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to conduct research and monitor the nuclear situation in Southeast Asia.  However, most civil society organizations and environmental groups are against the idea of nuclear energy.

In a separate meeting in Singapore, Greenpeace activists urged Southeast Asian countries to scrap plans for nuclear power as “the safety of the nuclear power plant in this volatile region” cannot be guaranteed in a geographically volatile region where earthquakes are frequent occurrences.  Greenpeace activists also warned of the lack of experience in storing and disposing of radioactive wastes and the dangers that plutonium – a key ingredient for making a nuclear bomb – would get into the wrong hands.

In Manila where the ASEAN Economic Ministers were meeting, officials have suggested that ASEAN imposed a moratorium on new free trade talks so as to focus on completing free trade agreements with the six Asia-Pacific countries (ChinaJapanKoreaIndiaAustralia and New Zealand) which are already under way.

ASEAN’s outgoing Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong told the press that while in the long run, it is good to forge more FTAs internationally, it is important to prioritise and conclude the major ones first. He also revealed that Turkey and Chile have expressed interest in opening FTA talks while a joint feasibility study for one with Pakistan is in progress.

At the 28th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Association (AIPA) Meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi opened the AIPA saying, “The charter will lend our regional organisation a ‘legal personality’ and thus afford its programmes and projects the prospects of greater legitimacy in the context of the law, both national and international.”

The Philippines President Macapagal-Arroyo said, “ASEAN heads of state look forward to working with the AIPA leadership in communicating to the Southeast Asian people our vision of unifying our 10 separate states into one caring and sharing regional community.” The Philippines House Speaker Jose C. de Venecia Jr. urged the other members to accede to the ASEAN Charter which would be taken as the first step towards the creation of an ASEAN parliament.

Legislators at the AIPA meeting also urged their own governments to look into several other measures such as revisiting and reviewing their extradition laws to facilitate extradition and mutual assistance particularly involving international terrorism and drug trafficking. Other measures include the need to enhance protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights, the formation of a caucus to review the status of the implementation of AIPA resolutions.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo opened the 41st ASEAN Standing Committee meeting in Singapore on Monday 20 August, outlining the three aims of Singapore chairmanship of ASEAN. The first is to beef up ASEAN’s support pillars - economic integration, regional security and socio-cultural ties The second aim is to push through the draft ASEAN Charter at the upcoming ASEAN Summit November. Last, Singapore would focus on getting ASEAN to tackle energy security, environmental protection and climate change head-on so that regional growth can be sustained.

Daljit Singh, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies referred to the ASEAN meetings as providing the latter with some clout to ‘help shape the regional order in consultation with the big players’ [ChinaJapan and United States].  He warned that ASEAN would need to be united in order to use its other ‘levers of influence’ such as its strategic location astride the sea lanes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and its market of over 550 million people. However, he also conceded that ASEAN’s success would be dependent on relations among the bigger powers such as the United StatesChina and Japan.  (24 August 2007)


Yangon on edge (Straits Times, 24 August 2007)

Pact paves way for shared trans-regional power grid (Today, 24 August 2007)

Greenpeace: No safety sureties for ‘Ring of Fire’ (Today, 24 Agust 2007)

ASEAN to put new free trade talks on hold (Straits Times, 24 August 2007)

Myanmar junta makes more arrests as protests continue (Kyodo, 23 August 2007)

Myanmar Protesters March Despite Arrests (Associated Press, 23 August 2007)

ASEAN Energy Ministers To Focus On Nuclear Energy Safety At Meeting(Kyodo, 22 August 2007)

Arrests Fail To Deter Myanmar Protesters (Associated Press, 22 August 2007)

Myanmar Likely To Sell Gas From A-1, A-3 To China- Official (Dow)  Jones, 22 August 2007

Aipa Members Must Be Familiar With Transnational Issues, Says S'pore(Bernama, 21 August 2007)

De Venecia Pushes ASEAN Charter(Manila Bulletin, 22 August 2007)

Aipa Wants Harmonised Legislation To Combat Drug Menace, Human(Bernama, 21 August 2007)

Take Steps To Protect Migrant Workers' Rights, Aipa Members Told(Bernama, 21 August 2007)

Aipa Establishes Caucus To Harmonise Legislation(Bernama, 21 August 2007)

ASEAN As A Geopolitical Player(Straits Times, 22 August 2007)

PM: Work With Charter To Keep Asean Relevant(New Straits Times, 21 August 2007)

Singapore Sets Itself Three Challenges As New Asean Chairman (Straits Times, 21 August 2007)