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ASEAN

 

IN QUANDARY?

It has been a year of multiple distractions for the Association of Southeast Asia (Asean).

The general elections that saw the rise of the opposition in Malaysia earlier in the year; the cyclone Nargis and the military government’s human rights abuses in Myanmar; the border dispute that brought fellow Asean neighbours Thailand and Cambodia to a face-off; the protracted political turmoil that forced hosts Thailand to postpone the year-end Asean Summit – all came together in the year the regional group should be focusing on the launch of the Asean Charter.

Yet, the biggest distraction came in the shape of a global financial crisis that shook the markets across the region, slashing jobs and severely blunting growth prospects. Wary of the worse that is yet to come, governments from Manila to Singapore are scurrying to put together stimulus packages to resuscitate their economies.  
Back in November 2007, when the Asean Charter was unveiled in Singapore, there were high expectations that the charter would turn Asean into a rules-based entity, on par with the other respected international organisations.

Never mind the lack of provisions on specific sanctions for charter breaches or non-compliance. Ignore the perception of Asean as a loose grouping which decide issues by consensus and not intervening in members’ domestic affairs, human rights or otherwise. The focus was on the charter and its timely ratification.
The anxiety over the ratification process was over when the last three members – Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand finally managed to pass the ratification bills through their parliaments.

However, the celebration in November to mark the full ratification was marred by the danger of the all-important summit being delayed due to political turmoil facing the hosts Thailand, where anti-government protests had forced the government to move the venue from Bangkok to Chiangmai in the north.
That upset summit participants and heightened concerns over the delay, which eventually came early December after Thailand’s ruling party was dissolved by the constitutional
court on election fraud charges.

Initially, Thailand proposed that the summit be postponed until March, but later agreed to stick to the original date – mid-December – for certain meetings to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia but chaired by Thailand.

Indonesia has offered to facilitate the meeting of Asean foreign ministers at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta. Indonesia is also working to arrange a possible meeting of Asean finance ministers in Bali among themselves and with their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea. It is not clear whether there will be an official introduction of the new Asean Charter in Indonesia. There are doubts over the the India-Asean FTA, scheduled to be inked by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterparts at the summit.

Unknown as well is the fate of the regional emergency fund that Asean planned to set up in 2009 with China, Japan and South Korea. The scheme, to better shield the region from the impact of the global financial crisis, discussed by Asean senior finance officials and their counterparts from three Asian economies in Manila in November, was to be finalised by their heads of state during an annual summit in Thailand. The scheme calls for allowing all Asean countries, along with China, Japan and South Korea, to use emergency funds under the so-called Chiang Mai Initiative - an arrangement forged by Asian nations after the 1997 financial crisis to address foreign reserve deficits through bilateral currency swaps.

It is time Asean shook off its quandary and woke up to the reality. Get the meetings going perhaps through video-conferencing and emails and put off the annual jamboree to a later date.

 

ASEAN MAP
On the following pages:

Brunei : TAKING IT EASY
Has Brunei taken its oil-rich country status for granted? Find out. 
Myanmar : SAY CONGRATULATIONS TO THE JUNTA
When Myanmar’s military junta boss sent his
to US congratulations  President-elect Barack Obama , it raised eyebrows. Could it be a sign of goodwill?
Cambodia :PRIDE AND POLITICS
Territorial disputes always sour relation between  neighbours. For the ambitious and unscrupulous,
it means….
Philippines : JEEP, JEEPNEY TO E-JEEPNEYS
The metamorphosis of the celebrated jeepneys that
have been roaming the Philippines since World War II.
Indonesia :LESSON IN GRACE
The presidential elections are still months away, but the candidates could learn lessons in grace from the US presidential elections.

Singapore : NECESSITY THE MOTHER OF WATER CONSERVATION
Most other countries in Southeast Asia take water for
but in granted  Singapore it is a major challenge , with supplies increasingly seen as an issue of nationalsecurity.
Laos : THE SPECTRE OF MODERNITY
One of the world’s few remaining communistcountries, Laos is getting more and more impatient to shed its image of a sleepy outpost.

Thailand : BEHIND THE RUSH FOR 3G
Finally, the third generation (3G) services have become available in mobile phone crazy Bangkok, and curiously, without market demand.

Malaysia : FULFILING THE ‘RAHMAN PROPHECY’
As Malaysia’s ruling party elections draws closer, a curious phenomenon called ‘Rahman prophecy’ is making furious rounds in political circles.

Vietnam : WHERE HAVE ALL THE VISITORS GONE?
An abrupt drop in the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam
nixed the country’s high hopes  for rapid growth in the tourism sector in 2008.
 
  
 

 

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