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July 18, 2008

Asean meeting: No more gala dinner performances
Singapore, the host of this year's Asean meetings, has decided to forgo the Asean tradition of asking delegates to perform on stage at a gala dinner to be held in the city-state next week involving foreign ministers and officials from Southeast Asia and from outside the region, Kyodo news agency quoted Asean sources as saying.

The gala dinner is to be held at the Istana, or the grand presidential palace, next Wednesday amid an annual series of meetings hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

At past such gatherings, participating delegations traditionally presented some kind of light entertainment away from the cameras, such as songs and performances.

At the July 2006 gala dinner in Kuala Lumpur, for example, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had played the piano while Japan's then Foreign Minister Taro Aso did a Humphrey Bogart impersonation.

Some performances in the past have involved comical skits in which witty jokes were made about sensitive regional issues.

Observers said Singapore, the current Asean chair, appears concerned the performances could trivialise the annual gatherings to some extent and in some cases inadvertently rub delegates of some countries the wrong way.

A senior official from one Asean country said it is the prerogative of the host country to decide on such details.

"Singapore probably felt that it is better to concentrate on the substance rather than spend too much time practicing (for the performances)," the official said.

But she said the tradition has not been discarded by ASEAN and other host countries might still continue with it.

The annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers will begin with an informal working dinner this Sunday, followed by a meeting between Asean foreign ministers and those of Japan, China and South Korea on July 22.

There will also be a ministerial meeting of the 16-member East Asia Summit, which involves not only Asean, Japan, China and South Korea but also Australia, New Zealand and India.

There will be separate meetings between Asean and 10 major partners from outside the region on July 23 and a meeting of foreign ministers from the 27-member Asean Regional Forum on security on July 24.

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