Is Myanmar fit to be chair of ASEAN?

Updated On: May 06, 2011

Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will gather in the Jakarta over the weekend to discuss regional affairs pertinent to the countries’ development and cooperation. These include security and the boosting of transportation links in the region.

After arriving in Jakarta on Thursday, Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein has sought support for Myanmar to be the chair of the bloc come 2014. Thein Sein was prime minister under the now-disbanded junta headed by former leader General Than Shwe, is one of a group of generals who shed their army uniforms to successfully stand in the November poll.

"Myanmar feels that this is it, this is their chance," an ASEAN diplomatic source told AFP on the sidelines of the discussions.

Known for being a ‘pariah state in the democratic world’, numerous human rights violations, and sham elections, ‘Myanmar’s chairing of ASEAN would be an embarrassment to the group already suffering from credibility issues,’ said Humans Rights Watch. 

If Myanmar were to chair ASEAN come 2015, it would be required to speak on behalf of the bloc and host scores of meetings which would involve countries like the United States who are dissatisfied with their human rights track records.

Although US approval is not needed for Myanmar to chair ASEAN, Washington could use its considerable influence to press Myanmar for reforms before assuming the chair. Doing so would put both the people in Myanmar and ASEAN in a better situation that it is in now.

There have been calls from several parties for ASEAN to enforce conditions before Myanmar can step up to chair ASEAN. Washington has called for ASEAN to define baseline criteria for Myanmar to meet. These would be norms ASEAN expects from members in good standing. The ASEAN inter-parliamentary called for a rejection of Myanmar’s application until it made real reforms.

At this point in time, unless Myanmar takes constructive measures to improve the impression other countries both in and out of ASEAN have of them, it will probably be a  very long time before they can be the representative face of the ASEAN nations.

Report, Background and Analysis:  Rights group says Myanmar not ready to chair ASEAN [The Associated Press, May 6, 2011] ASEAN considers giving Myanmar chair: officials [AFP, May 6, 2011]

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