This week saw new efforts on the part of regional and international organisations to build stronger regional affiliation with ASEAN countries leading the way.
The fourth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) Meeting – first hosted by Malaysia last December – was held from June 27-29 in Singapore, to draft the ASEAN Charter, a process that began in December last year during the 11th ASEAN summit and is scheduled for completion by the 12th ASEAN summit in December 2006.
The ASEAN Charter will serve as a legal and institutional framework; defining the rights and obligations of member states, giving ASEAN a legal basis for its standings which would greatly enhance ASEAN’s role and responsibilities in international affairs. The move to draft a charter for ASEAN is seen as significant for the next stage of its development, signaling ASEAN’s desire to become more institutionalize and to act more decisively and more expeditiously than in the past. The business community also signaled to the wise men that they hoped the Charter would support and speed up the formation of a more unified regional market.
Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar, when interviewed on June 27, stressed that the EPG meeting will derive ideas that are 'practical and pragmatic', and not merely suggest 'cosmetic changes'. But 'at the end of the day, it is not the organisational changes and other proposals we make, it is very much the political resolve and commitment of the ASEAN countries which will make the organisation credible,' Prof Jayakumar said. The pressing challenge at this stage for the EPG lies in drafting a feasible, coherent, and strategic ASEAN Charter by the deadline in less than six months.
Elsewhere, the ‘NAM News Network' (NNN) – a joint effort by 116 member countries of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) – was formally launched on June 27 by Malaysian Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin. The Web-based news service (http://www.namnewsnetwork.org) will carry about 60 news items daily, as well as photographs, contributed by 35 news agencies and news organizations of NAM member countries in Asia, West Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
NNN is the transformation of the now-defunct Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (Nanap) and was established by Bernama with the endorsement of the Sixth Conference of Ministers of Information of Non-Aligned Countries (Cominac VI) hosted by Malaysia last November.
The alternative news network is touted to serve as an “antidote to deceptive Western media reports” (Antara, 27 June 2006). AFP quoted Minister Maidin as saying that the NNN aims to be an independent, balanced, and unbiased source of news, in contrast to CNN and the BBC. In launching NNN, the Information Minister also called for NAM member countries to support the network and "prove the doomsayers wrong."
Challenges lie ahead for the NNN to prove Western critics wrong and justify its claims of advocating freedom of the press, as the 116-nation NAM comprises countries (North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Myanmar, Libya, Cuba and Nepal) that have been ranked at the bottom of global media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index listing for 2005.
Non-Aligned Movement launches news network to counter "deception" (Antara, 27 June 2006)
NAM countries news service launched in Malaysia (The Star, 27 June 2006)
NNN Can Become One Of The Best Information Channels (Bernama, 27 June 2006)
Asean Charter: Group looking at practical, bold ideas (The Straits Times, 28 June 2006)
A unified ASEAN market (Today, 30 June 2006)