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21 October 2009

Asean Summit: Singapore stresses connectivity with China and India

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Asean is looking at enhancing connectivity amongst its member countries, as well as with China and India by road and rail. This is one key issue to be discussed when Asean leaders meet at the Thai resort town of Hua Hin for their summit later this week, reported Singapore’s Channel News Asia.

Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo shared with the media on Tuesday that the leaders will propose for a group to be formed to study the idea in detail.

He said: "We have, on the one side, China; on the other side, India – two very big countries with developed or developing infrastructure and we are in between. If we, in our own integration, make sure our links connect to theirs, not only will ASEAN be linked to China and India, we will link China and India together.

"The road and rail links will benefit more mainland Asean, but the sea connectivity will benefit maritime Asean. So depending on the country we are talking about, some may benefit more than others, but that is alright. We are looking at the whole of Asean as one integrated space now, and if there is growth for Asean as a whole, it is bound to create direct and indirect benefits for individual member countries."

Asean will launch its Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which is a major step forward since the implementation of the Asean Charter last year. The commission seeks to develop strategies for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom within the ten-member grouping.

"If countries are in breach, we can say, 'Look, you have agreed to these things in the Charter and it is on this basis that we become a community. Can we please show some respect on what we have agreed to?' It allows us to put moral pressure on countries which have fallen short," said Yeo.

"When we embarked on this process, we were not sure we would achieve success at all because the views were quite polarised and some countries felt this was premature while others felt it was high time. In the spirit of compromise, we were able to reach an agreement.

"If you look in a more detached way, human rights represent the common value system we share in the community. It is natural – given our different histories and backgrounds – that we should have different views about this and some countries rightly fear that human rights might become a lever by external powers to put pressure on them. But I believe in the end, if we go about this in a consensual manner, we will be able to make progress while achieving a good agreement among the group."

An important meeting that is going to take place in Singapore next month is that between the Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama. Yeo said it is a key signal of the importance Asean plays in the eyes of the United States.

In the past, such a meeting would not have been possible because of Myanmar.

"I think it is right that Myanmar continues to be an issue for them. It doesn't mean they should ignore Myanmar now. But it means that while keeping Myanmar as an agenda item, other agenda items are also addressed," said Yeo, who expects the Hua Hin Summit to proceed smoothly.

Thailand, who has learnt from its experience with the Pattaya Summit earlier this year, has enhanced security arrangements. The Asean Summit in April was cancelled when anti-government Thai protesters stormed the resort venue in Pattaya.

"I know that ASEAN's partner countries are still concerned about security, so I assured them that the Thais have got all in hand, they have learned from the last experience. When we had the AMM (ASEAN Ministerial Meeting) in Phuket in June, security was extremely tight and the proceedings took place without any trouble at all," Yeo added.


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