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ASEAN forges ahead – deeper integration within and stronger cooperation with dialogue partners

Updated On: Jan 16, 2007

As ASEAN announced loudly its intention to become a more rules-based organization in response to the changing strategic situation in AsiaMyanmar continued to hog media attention. 

The vote on US-sponsored UN resolution to sanction Myanmar came at the time when ASEAN leaders were in Cebu for the 12th Summit, followed with a series of meetings with dialogue partners and then the 2nd East Asia Summit. 

While the blueprint for the Charter endorsed by the ASEAN leaders may contain radical recommendations that call for suspension or even expulsion of members who violate the principles and objectives of ASEAN, for now, there is reluctance to do anything more than “urging” Myanmar to speed up its pace of democratic reforms and release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi. This lack of enthusiasm for too strong an action on Myanmar was mirrored in the United Nations Security Council as evident by the vetos cast by China and Russia, and abstention by Indonesia.

Malaysia Prime Minister Badawi explained, “The situation in Myanmar is not a security issue that will have an impact on the region. It is not a matter for the United Nations Security Council but other forums.” Notwithstanding all the indecision of the international community, the Myanmar Prime Minister, General Soe Win provided an update of the progress of the national convention drafting a constitution during the ASEAN summit.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono told reporters after the ASEAN Summit, "After meeting several times with Myanmar leaders, I realise that the basic problemMyanmar faces is keeping the country united while continuing with reconciliation and moving toward democratization. That's why we will continue to communicate with them, to be able to push them toward democracy."

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda proposed the establishment of a trilateral cooperative body comprising of Indonesia, the current ASEAN Chair, thePhilippines and the incoming ChairSingapore to push Myanmar to change. If this trilateral body is set up, it will constitute a slightly modified version of the ASEAN Troika.

At the ASEAN-China summit, both sides signed the ASEAN-China Trade in Services Agreement, yet another part of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This agreement covers 60 service industries including the transport and energy sectors. President Arroyo described China as the “big brother” in the region, citing its economic and military might. ASEAN and China also signed an agreement to cooperate on information and communications technology. The ASEAN secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s agricultural ministry on agricultural cooperation.  Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also indicated that Singapore is likely to push for a fully liberalised air services regime between ASEAN and China in the next ASEAN-China Summit.

At the ASEAN-India summit, India agreed to come up with new tariff reduction proposals in July to salvage the faltering ASEAN-India FTA. Both Singapore Prime Minsiter Lee Hsien Loong and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh further suggested an “open skies” policy between ASEAN and India.

Korea asked for a postponement of the completion of the negotiation of services and investment chapters to November 2007 at the ASEAN-Korea Summit.

The ASEAN-Japan summit seems to have been overshadowed by the other summits, with little media coverage. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal seems more focused on finding a purpose for the East Asia Summit. He proposed the setting up of an East Asian research centre and the start of a private sector study on a FTA for all the East Asian Summit members. However, with the ASEAN-Japan FTA negotiation not budging, it is unclear why a larger FTA would proceed. 

At the three-way summit between China, Japan and South Korea, they agreed that a joint council be set up to deal with the various diplomatic and history issues that have plagued their relations. This joint council would comprise high-ranking Foreign Ministry officials from the three countries, with the first meeting to be held in China later this year. This council is likely to be convened annually. They also agreed to hold annual meetings of the Foreign Ministers to foster cooperation among the three. The first meeting is to be held before the end of this year. 

At the second East Asian Summit, the leaders signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security. President Arroyo had said earlier, "We look forward to signing the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security which would help shape a common regional policy for energy issues, including the development and use of alternative and renewable forms of energy, promotion of energy efficiency and resource and infrastructure development through greater private sector involvement."  Japan followed up immediately with a pledge of US$2 billion aid package to help Asian nations develop energy-saving technology and ease the region’s dependence on oil.

The absence of Indonesian President Yudhoyono at the East Asia Summit, who cut short his trip to Cebu, officially because of domestic problems, could not help but fuel speculations about the support and enthusiasm for East Asia Summit vis-à-vis the ASEAN + three meeting.  The Agence France Presse also noted that the wording of the Declaration “largely repeats a similar statement they issued at the last East Asia Summit in December 2005”, yet another indication perhaps that there is little new that the East Asia Summit adds to the existing forums.

Sources:

Asian Nations Make Energy Pledge (Agence France Presse, 15 January 2007)

Asian Nations Pledge Efforts to Save Energy, Develop New Sources (ChannelnewsAsia, 15 January 2007)

16 East Asian Leaders Open Talks Today (Manila Bulletin, 15 January 2007)

S’pore Will Work to Boost ASEAN-China Ties: PM Lee (Business Times Singapore, 15 January 2007)

China, ASEAN Ink Trade Agreement (Straits Times, 15 January 2007)

China and Japan Come A-Courting (Straits Times, 15 January 2007)

India Agrees to Negotiate ‘Open-Skies’ Pact (Straits Times, 15 January 2007)

Economic Summit; Commitment from East Asian Giants Appreciated (Bangkok Post, 15 January 2007)

Indonesia to Continue Engaging Myanmar After Failed UN Vote (Jakarta Post, 15 January 2007)

A Victory for the Burmese Junta (The Nation, 15 January 2007)

ASEAN Rejects GMA Call for Reforms in Myanmar (Manila Standard, 15 January 2007)

ASEAN Must Push Myanmar (New Straits Times, 14 January 2007)

S Korea, Japan and China To Launch Council on Diplomatic Issues (Yonhap, 14 January 2007)

SBY’s East Asia Snub: Cynicism or Summit Fatigue? (Jakarta Post, 13 January 2007)

Yudhoyono to Skip East Asia Summit to Focus on Home (Jakarta Post, 11 January 2007)