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Moving away from Myanmar?

Updated On: Jul 28, 2006

ASEAN may want to distance itself from Myanmar after recent frustrations in dealing with an “unresponsive regime”. 

Realising its own lack of clout in “influencing” Myanmar, ASEAN had been calling on Myanmar’s biggest neighbours, China and India, to use their influence to bring about reforms in Myanmar

Australia made similar appeals to India during a meeting between Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Junior Minister for Defence Rao Indrajit Singh on the fringe of the ASEAN meetings.  However, Singh was quick to spell out India’s “good and peaceful ties with Myanmar” and warn Asian partners against “isolating Myanmar”.

EU, one of the staunchest critics of Myanmar, has decided not to “isolate” Myanmar by inviting the latter to participate in the upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit to be held in Helsinki.  Despite heavy criticism from NGOs, the EU has granted a visa to Myanmar’s Foreign Minister to attend the ASEM summit later this year. Hanna Lehtinen, the Secretary-General of the ASEM Secretariat denied that this represented a “softening” of EU stance on Myanmar. She warned that, “This Myanmar issue should not dominate the agenda… we should not be held hostage by the problem.”  

The ASEM process has been haunted by this issue of Myanmar since the latter was accepted as a member of the ASEM process in 2004.  The EU has imposed a ban on the issue of visa to Myanmar government officials to visit the EU. The EU threatened to boycott the ASEM summit in Hanoi in 2004 if the Myanmar’s Prime Minister were to attend. The EU only relented when Myanmar’s participation was reduced by a level. In 2005, the ASEAN economic ministers boycotted the Asia-Europe economic ministers meeting after the Dutch host denied visa to Myanmar’s minister.

Acknowledging that though there is a visa ban within the EU, Finnish Under-Secretary of State, Markus Lyra, also highlighted that exceptions can be made, and “there is a consensus view on this in the EU”.  Hence an invitation had been extended to Myanmar to attend the ASEM Summit.  But Myanmar had not yet informed the organisers of names of possible delegates to the summit.

Sources:

EU Defends Visa For Myanmar FM (Agence France Presse, 26 July 2006)

Finland to Grant Burmese Minister Visa to Attend Asia-Europe Summit (BBC Monitoring [Kyodo News], 26 July 2006)

Burmese Official Denies Snubbing ASEAN Envoy Over Democratisation Process (BBC Monitoring [The Star, Malaysia], 25 July 2006)

India warns Asian partners against isolating Burma (PTI News Agency, 26 July 2006)