UPDATE: Possible ASEAN chair for Myanmar; China objects to discussing disputes at Summit

Updated On: Nov 16, 2011

Myanmar receives support for ASEAN chair in 2014

ASEAN foreign ministers are likely to recommend that Myanmar chair the group in 2014 when they meet again today in Bali.

Marty Natalegawa, Indonesian Foreign Minister said that there were compelling indications that Myanmar was now on the right track. “[The ASEAN foreign ministers] all recognise the important and significant developments taking place in Myanmar… The idea of Myanmar chairing ASEAN in 2014 for many represents part of that momentum building,” he said after a closed-door ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Natalegawa added that ASEAN envoys will meet today to make an official recommendation. Djauhari Oratmangun, ASEAN cooperation director general with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the ASEAN heads of states still must vote on the issue at the end of the ASEAN Summit.

The foreign ministers from ASEAN member states are discussing regional economic and security issues this week in Bali ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits.

In 2006, under the threat of a Western boycott of ASEAN’s meetings, Myanmar withdrew from the chairmanship. The US and European nations are currently reviewing sanctions against Myanmar country after the Southeast Asian country made moves towards political reform, which includes easing censorship and freeing several hundred political prisoners including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Allowing Myanmar to take over the chairmanship of the organization that champions norms for democracy and human rights has been controversial. Myanmar announced last month that it was granting amnesty to over 6,000 political prisoners, but critics point out that only 230 political have been released so far. Others dismissed the release of the political prisoners as a charade by the government to shore up its reputation worldwide.

Report: Myanmar ‘may well chair ASEAN in 2014’ (Today, 16 Nov 2011)

Report: Myanmar set to chair ASEAN: FM (Jakarta Post, 16 Nov 2011)

Report: ASEAN Foreign Ministers Endorse Burma as 2014 Chair (Voice of America, 15 Nov 2011)

Implications for Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship

Should Myanmar take over the ASEAN chair, it would host the bloc’s summits, as well as the wider East Asia Summit, which would include Myanmar’s arch-critic, the US. The US has appeared doubtful on whether it would participate in any future summit held in Myanmar.

“Our understanding of ASEAN practice is that it is not normal to name a host three years in advance, and we think it would be premature to select [Myanmar] given its record on a range of issues,” said a senior Obama administration official.

Lawmakers in Southeast Asia also expressed caution that giving Myanmar the chairmanship prize could cause it to roll back on reforms, and that it should enact more substantial measures before being rewarded.

Eva Sundari Kusuma from the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus said, “This is to ensure that Myanmar will not just fool ASEAN into getting the chairmanship, and that they will continue with the democratic process.”

Myanmar has freed some 200 dissidents from last month but left many imprisoned. Another mass release expected for Monday has been delayed for unclear reasons. There is also unease over whether President Thein Sein will continue reforms given the risk of a backlash by hardliners.

Report: ASEAN ministers ‘to approve’ Myanmar as 2014 chair (Agence France-Presse, 16 Nov 2011)

China objects to raising South China Sea disputes during East Asia Summit

Meanwhile, China made clear its refusal to discuss the South China Sea disputes during the coming East Asia Summit in Bali.

Beijing is resistant towards attempts by the US to deepen its involvement in the issue, which China prefers address with its neighbours bilaterally, especially as Washington pushes to enhance its influence in Asia.

The Philippines, however, reiterated its intention to hold a meeting between claimants to discuss its plan for creating a “zone of peace” in the area by clearly delineating disputed and undisputed areas.

Today’s ASEAN ministerial meeting is likely to touch upon the issue as four member states are claimants, with the Philippines and Vietnam caught in diplomatic spats with China over the disputes. But diplomats said that other ASEAN members desire better relations with China and seem reluctant to support the Philippine proposal.

Beijing has voiced its objections to the issue being raised at the East Asia Summit. China opposes non-claimant involvement in the disputes and insists that they should instead be resolved bilaterally between China itself and each claimant.

China Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Tuesday, “There is no connection between the South China Sea and the East Asia Summit as the East Asia Summit is a forum, a platform for discussing cooperation on economic development… We hope the South China Sea will not be discussed at the East Asia Summit.”

Report: China Resists Sea Discussion at Summit (Wall Street Journal, 15 Nov 2011)

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