Bangkok - While calls are mounting for Asean to deny Myanmar of the grouping's chairmanship in 2006, a former senior Thai diplomat has cautioned that strippingYangon of the right may lead to a new set of complications for the group. Mr Kobsak Chutikul instead called for a “creative diplomacy” to solve the problem.
The Myanmar issue will be at the top of the Asean foreign ministers’ agenda when they meet in Cebu, Philippines, from April 9 to 12. The 10-member grouping appears to be torn between adhering to its policy of non-inteference in its members’ internal affairs and ensuring that Asean will not be boycotted by its dialogue partners during Myanmar’s one-year tenure as chairman.
Mr Kobsak said “there is no easy way out of the Burma conundrum for Asean”.
“At this point, there is no consensus on denying Burma the chairmanship in 2006, but there is apparently also no consensus that Burma can automatically take over,” he wrote in a commentary in Bangkok Post.
Under Asean’s rotation system, Myanmar will host the grouping’s summit in 2006 and the foreign ministers' meeting in 2007. It will also host a major security forum traditionally attended by its dialogue partners, including the European Union and the United States.
Mr Kobsak noted that changing the order of rotation of chairmanship or the venue of meetings is not uncommon in other regional or international organisations.
“But for Asean, denial of chairmanship or changing a host country meeting venue would set a new precedent that could in future be abused. There is still some time left creative diplomacy,” he added.
Elements of such a diplomacy include getting Asean countries with the “right qualifications” to constantly publicise their commitment to democratic practices and respect for human rights.
“This would at least convey the impression that Asean is not a monolithic bloc and that within Asean there are areas of progress and light where democracy and human dignity are ascendant.”
He also suggested presenting two options to the military junta in Yangon:
- It could either take steps towards democracy and national reconciliation such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the inclusion of her National League for Democracy and all the ethnic minority groups in the national constitution-drafting convention before taking over the Asean chairmanship;
- Or, if the regime does not yet feel confident enough to take such steps, a voluntary relinquishing of the Asean chairmanship this time around.
Mr Kobsak wrote: “Both options offer a win-win situation for Burma. Taking the positive steps will at the very least buy her more time, let her assume the Asean chairmanship, provide a fig leaf for other countries to attend meetings in Burma, and help ease Burma back into the international community.
“The relinquishing of the chairmanship on the other hand would be an act of sacrifice much appreciated by other Asean countries. It would help relieve international pressures, and could allow time for re-adjustment of policies towards Burma now under way in some parts of the world to eventually become the dominant trend.”
* Myanmar top issue at Asean meeting in Cebu (The Manila Times, April 6)
*Crunch time approaches for Asean (Bangkok Post, April 6)