Things are looking up for Myanmar after elections went smoothly last Sunday, with its neighbours in Southeast Asia calling for the lifting of its sanctions and the US agreeing to do so. The ASEAN Summit also ended yesterday, covering topics like the South China Sea dispute and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
International Community endorses Myanmar elections
After Myanmar’s by-elections ended last Sunday on a positive note, with pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi winning a seat in parliament, Southeast Asian leaders showed its endorsement and support of the country’s reforms by calling for the lifting the sanctions on Myanmar at the ASEAN Summit 2012.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the association considered the elections to be “free, fair and transparent”, and would be sending an appeal first to the EU. In a statement, the 10 heads of state “called for the lifting of all sanctions on Myanmar immediately in order to contribute positively to the democratic process and economic development in that country”. Myanmar is set to chair ASEAN in 2014.
Later in the day, the US announced plans to forge a deeper relationship with the country through the easing of sanctions. This includes returning an ambassador to Myanmar and lifting some travel and financial restrictions. The US will also allow senior Myanmar officials to visit the US and allow the country to export financial services. In addition, a US Agency for International Development office will be set up in Myanmar in the coming months. Sanctions and prohibitions will remain on “individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of [the] reform efforts”.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who made the announcement, called Sunday’s election a “dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government”. However, Ms. Clinton also said that reforms had to continue, and that the US wants to see a cut-off in military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, the release of all political prisoners and ceasefires with all ethnic minorities groups.
Report: US moves to ease Myanmar sanctions after reforms [Reuters, 4 April 2012]
Report: US eases some Burma restrictions [TIME, 4 April 2012]
Report: Southeast Asian leaders: lift Myanmar sanctions [AP, 5 April 2012]
20th ASEAN Summit wrap-up
The annual ASEAN Summit ended yesterday, with Southeast Asian leaders pledging to “intensify efforts to ensure the effective and full implementation" of the DOC, a 10-year-old declaration on the conduct of parties who have agreed to commit to promoting peace and understanding in the disputed territories of the South China Sea.
However, analysts have said that the same pledge was made last year, but did not contribute to dispute resolution. Instead, the South China Sea remains a point of contention between China and a few ASEAN states until today.
There were also disagreements at the summit over the drafting of a “code of conduct” for the South China Sea, with Cambodia wanting to include China in the drafting process, and the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam saying that the bloc should draft a code by itself before showing it to China. ASEAN member states have often expressed wariness regarding China’s close relationship with Cambodia.
In addition, the summit’s statement called for a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear program but did not refer to its rocket launch plan that is to take place later this month.
The ASEAN Economic Community was also a key issue at the summit. While the nations have agreed to redouble efforts towards economic integration, there was general agreement that ASEAN will not be looking at adopting a single currency for the region.
Report: ASEAN to ‘intensify efforts’ on China sea disputes [AFP, 4 April 2012]
Report: ASEAN single currency unlikely after Eurozone ‘lesson’ [BBC, 4 April 2012]