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The ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting: To Each His Own?

Updated On: Mar 16, 2007

The 16th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting is being held on 14-15 March in Nuremberg, Germany.

The meeting is likely to discuss the possibility of a free trade agreement between the EU and ASEAN. Both sides are also set to adopt a so-called “Vision Statement” which will call for closer political ties at the bilateral and multilateral levels. Although the ASEAN Foreign Ministers will be attending in the name of ASEAN, they will bring their particular concerns to the meeting.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan met with the EU Troika officials (which comprise senior officials from the EU member state holding the EU presidency, the incoming EU presidency, the European Commission and the EU Council Secretariat). Hassan will also witness the signing of the Indonesia-European Union Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). This agreement is seen as laying out the legal basis for the bilateral cooperation in various sectors.

The Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram is the highest ranking government representative to go to Europe since the coup. The EU had earlier issued two statements expressing their strong dissatisfaction of the coup in Thailand. The EU had also announced that it would not be in contact with Thailand politically.

Nitya will be anxious to restore external diplomatic confidence in Thailand. The Bangkok Post noted that the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting will be “the first opportunity for the Thai FM to explain directly the `real situation' to the EU ministers instead of through diplomats.” Nitya will have a busy time as he is likely to face questions on the current Thai's domestic political conditions, ongoing unrest in Southern Thailand, the perceived deterioration of investment climate particularly with the amendment of the Foreign Business Act and the situation of the Burmese and Hmong refugees in Thailand. He is also expected to push for several agreements at the bilateral talks with several EU members.

The Philippines will be hoping that the EU will not cast an overly critical eye to the issue of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. The Philippines government has been embarrassed by the sending of a mission by the United States Senate on the issue of the unexpected killings. The Philippines is also expected to ask for continued assistance from the EU to maintain the peace (and development) in Mindanao.

The issue of Myanmar is likely to be raised at the meeting. The EU is considering acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) but it is reluctant to subscribe to the clause in the Treaty which stipulates non-interference in the domestic affairs of the signatory states. In particular, the EU remains concerned over the situation in Myanmar. Nevertheless, both EU and ASEAN are likely to agree on a strategy paper that would provide humanitarian aid for Myanmar, especially on the issue of tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS.

The poor state of affairs in Myanmar was again mentioned in the editorial of the South China Morning Post which urged the Asian governments to change their tack on Myanmar and call on Myanmar to initiate political and social reforms for the sake of the people in Myanmar. It pointed out the humanitarian conditions in Myanmar were comparable to the war-torn African nations such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, the plight of Myanmar people is not restricted to those living within Myanmar but also without. The New Straits Times ran an article supporting the Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid's statement that Malaysia would not recognize the latest wave of Myanmar arrivals as refugees. There have been several instances of illegal immigrants from Myanmar falsely claiming to have refugee cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There is also public concern over the association of crime with the Myanmar migrant workers and refugees.

Elsewhere, three Myanmar construction workers were killed in Pattani, caught up in the general violence afflicting Southern Thailand. One of them was brutally beheaded. Those who have fled to Bangladesh are not having life easy as well. The Bangladesh government had earlier ordered the local authorities to move the makeshift (Rohinga) refugee camp in Teknaf to another location. This make-shift refugee camp has approximately 6,000 unrecognised Burmese Muslim refugees who have fled from Myanmar. After an appeal from the UNHCR, the Bangladesh government postponed the order.

Ironically, on 14 March 2007 (Wednesday), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) praised the Myanmar government for its “quick and effective” handing of the bird flu situation. The H5N1 bird flu virus has been detected in four townships in Yangon. The FAO is providing US$1.4 million in emergency assistance to help Myanmar fight the disease. Providing emergency and humanitarian assistance to Myanmar can only be considered a stop-gap measure but without the participation of China, India and the United States, whatever outcome (pertaining to Myanmar) from the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting is unlikely to make significant difference.  (14 March 2007)

Sources:

UN Agency Praises Myanmar Response to Bird Flu (Agence France Presse, 14 March 2007)

Burma To Overshadow EU-ASEAN Talks in Germany (EUobserver.com, 14 March 2007)

Government Sending Observers to US For Probe of Killings (The Philippine Star, 14 March 2007)

Security To Top The Agenda At EU-ASEAN Meeting in Nuremberg (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 13 March 2007)

Chirac May Take the Edge Off Thailand At EU Talks (Bangkok Post, 13 March 2007)

ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting: A Chance to Explain Thailand's Post Coup Situation to EU (Bangkok Post, 13 March 2007)

Hassan To Attend EU Meetings in Germany (The Jakarta Post, 13 March 2007)

Change of Strategy Needed on Myanmar (South China Morning Post, 13 March 2007)

Three Myanmars Jailed A Whipped For Causing Hurt to Countryman (Malaysia General News, 13 March 2007)

Whose Rights Take Priority in the Case of Refugees (New Straits Times, 13 March 2007)

Tit-For-Tact Protests in Thai South (The Straits Times, 13 March 2007)

Situation in Burmese Refugee Camp in Bangladesh “Remains Normal”- Website (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12 March 2007)

Preview: Security On the Agenda At EU-ASEAN Meeting in Nuremburg (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 12 March 2007)

Building Community, Peace for Ex-Rebels (Sun Star, 12 March 2007)

Syed Hamid To Head M'Sian Delegation to 16th AEMM (Malaysia General News, 11 March 2007)