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Welcome to Asean Ambassadors Club
Australia, China and the United States are all keen to boost their ties with Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and get as close as possible to the regional bloc after having been major trade partners for years – by appointing special ambassadors to Asean. The New Zealand government appointed, Phillip Gibson, who has served as New Zealand's envoy to Indonesia for many years, as its first ambassador to the group mid October. It was the US that first conceived the idea of having an envoy to Asean. Early this year Scot Marciel, the US Deputy Assistant-Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, became the first ambassador to Asean. China and Australia are following suit. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jichei announced at the Asean-China Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in July that China has decided to send an envoy to Asean. Then, in mid-September, Australia became the second trade partner of Asean to appoint an ambassador. Japan, New Zealand and Russia are known to be preparing to appoint ambassadors to Asean. Meanwhile, the European Union plans to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation next year (2009) during an Asean-EU ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, Vietnam. According to French Ambassador to Thailand Laurent Bili, who recently assumed the EU presidency, the EU would be the first foreign grouping to sign the Asean-sponsored treaty. At the moment, besides Asean countries, signatories include China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, France, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Under the treaty, countries agree to mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations.

Great Relief for the Cheer-leader
Asean Secretariat sounded confident when it announced in October that the full ratification of the Asean Charter by December this year is on track. Nine out of the ten members of the group have had the document ratified, while the tenth member Indonesia is expected to follow suit shortly. No wonder Secretary-General of Asean, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, is optimistic. “I am fervently anticipating that we will be able to celebrate the entry into force of the Asean Charter at the Summit,” said the group’s chief who likes to be called Asean’s cheer-leader. He probably was worried about the Philippines, the latest country to ratify the charter. There were concerns earlier that ratification could have been derailed in the Philippine Senate. Some senators had criticised the lack of democracy in military-ruled Myanmar and demanded the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees, and insisted they would boycott the charter if their demands were not met. Then finally they let it go apparently realising that the Philippines’ was a lone voice while most other Asean members chose to ignore the Myanmar issue. Leaders of Asean last year signed the long-overdue charter, which aims to formally turn the 41-year-old organisation, often derided as a powerless talk shop _ into a rules-based legal entity. For the charter to take effect, it must be ratified by the parliaments of all the ten member nations. One of the most significant pledges in the charter is to set up a regional human rights body. Critics say such a body will have a limited impact if it is not empowered to punish governments, such as that of Myanmar, which often violates the human rights of their citizens.


In the following pages in this section:

Brunei : Sultan Eyes Big Stake in Iskandar...more Myanmar : Junta Takes on Dissidents in Cyberspace...more
Cambodia : Roylists' Future Shaken by Princde Departure...more
Philippines : Arroyo: Immune to Impeachments?...more
Indonesia :Presidential Elections 2009: Wooing the Distracted Voters...more
Singapore : The Lees Resort to Libel Suit, Again...more
Laos : Laid-back Laos Shifts into Top Gear...more
ThailandThailand's Tourism Woes...more
Malaysia : Ruling Party Kicks Off the Race to the Top...more
VietnamSelling Like Hotcakes:Crocodile and Catfish...more

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