Kuala Lumpur - For those who argue that Myanmar should be denied the Asean chair in 2006 because of its refusal to pursue democratic reforms, here’s some food for thought: Giving Yangon the chairmanship may actually speed up reforms in the country.
The suggestion - which would no doubt raise some eyebrows - was made by Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong in an interview with the Associated Press on June 13.
"If Myanmar chairs Asean, then there will be constant international attention on this situation in Myanmar, and there will be a certain amount of pressure in moving the national reconciliation and democratisation process," Mr Ong said.
"But if they are out of the chair, then for the next one or two years, they won't be on the radar scope. This is the downside," he said.
Myanmar is due to take over the rotating chairmanship of Asean next year, but the United States and the European Union strongly oppose the move. They have threatened to boycott Asean meetings and stall the bloc's development funding if Myanmar assumes the chair.
Within Asean, lawmakers from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have demanded that Myanmar give up its bid to lead the grouping unless it releases opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, improves human rights and introduces promised democratic reforms.
Mr Ong described as “impractical” one possible compromise that would save faces all around: Allowing Myanmar to take up the Asean helm but for Thailand to host all international meetings.
"It is best not to take a half-baked decision. On paper, it may be attractive, but you may have to spend more money and there may be more headaches," he said.
Mr Ong said Myanmar would make a decision on the issue at the Asean foreign ministers’ summit in Laos next month.
* ‘Myanmar as Asean chair to hasten nation’s reforms’ (The Manila Times, June 14)