Cebu – If there is one thing you can’t accuse Myanmar’s ruling junta of, it is for being inconsistent. Never one to pay much heed to international pressure, Yangonhas once again shrugged off calls for it to do the “right thing” – this time to voluntarily give up its turn to take over the Asean chair next year in order not to complicate the grouping’s relations with its key dialogue partners.
Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win said Yangon has no intention of giving up the rotating helm of Asean, declaring “this is our responsibility”. He said the European Union and the United States – both of whom had said that they might boycott Asean meetings held in Yangon next year - could not force Myanmar to refuse the grouping’s rotating chairmanship.
“That is their attitude, not ours. We can decide ourselves because we are an independent country,” U Nyan Win told reporters on April 9 as he arrived in Cebu,Philippines, for the Asean foreign ministers’ informal retreat. As expected, the Myanmar issue was on the top of the ministers' agenda.
Asked if he felt his country’s record on human rights and democracy qualified it to chair Asean, U Nyan Win said: “This is our responsibility.”
In a sign of how complicated the Myanmar problem is for Asean, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said it is up to Yangon to decide whether to take over the chairmanship of the 10-member grouping when the time comes.
"Next year, a decision has to be made and I think it is up to Myanmar to make the decision ," Mr Syed Hamid – whose country will take over the Asean chairmanship this year - told reporters at the end of the ministers’ retreat on April 11.
“We didn't discuss the chairmanship because the time to decide the chairmanship has not arrived.”
He said any formal decision on the issue would be made at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, in July.
The Malaysian minister said all the foreign ministers spoke about the developments in Myanmar for about 45 minutes during their coffebreak.
"I think the Myanmar Foreign Minister knows the views of the civil society within Asean and the views of the parliament members of each of the Asean countries ... and I think that itself sends a message to Myanmar to make its own decision," Mr Syed Hamid said.
Myanmar’s ruling junta insists that it is following a seven-point road map to democracy. Although Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines have discreetly raised the issue of democratic reforms and the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Asean as a group has resisted pressure from the United States and the European Union to issue Yangon an ultimatum.
A senior Asean diplomat said the 10-member grouping is in a dilemma because it cannot force Myanmar to give up the chairmanship post.
“Demanding that Myanmar give up its turn to chair Asean unless it implements democratic reforms and free Suu Kyi is an admission that its policy of constructive engagement vis-à-vis Yangon is a failure,” she told The Straits Times. “It will also break Asean’s policy of non-interference and set a dangerous precedent.”
* Asean ministers gird for tough meeting today over Myanmar (The Straits Times, April 11)
* Decision on Asean chairmanship left to Myanmar (Bernama, April 11)
* Asean face-off over Myanmar (The Manila Times, April 11)