Thursday, 24 July 2008

ASEAN risks being sidelined

By Ruth Youngblood

(Kuwait Times) Praise heaped on the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for persuading Myanmar's reluctant junta to open its doors to foreign aid have not halted nagging questions about the organization's future. While the group's credibility received a boost for brokering the arrangement enabling access for foreign aid and rescue workers following the devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar in May, analysts said the 41-year-old organization was in danger of being marginalized in Asia. As relations between major
powers improve, alternative platforms for regional interactions are emerging.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting Monday that only 30 per cent of the group's agreements and commitments have been honoured and implemented, describing the record as "somewhat patchy." ASEAN needs to implement many of the agreements it has adopted, said Mely Caballero-Anthony, associate professor at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. "By walking the talk, ASEAN builds up its credibility as a serious player in regional affairs, which in turn
enhances its standing in the wider international community," she said.

Progress on ASEAN's charter was essential, as it called for greater institutional capacity and accountability, she added. Ratification by all members is expected in December. The charter, signed by the 10 ASEAN leaders in November, seeks to commit the disparate nations to promote human rights and democratic ideals. Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines still need to ratify. ASEAN started working on a dispute settlement mechanism and a human rights body. The human rights body is to have no power to impose
sanctions and would rely on peer pressure, an official said. A database on human rights violations was to be created and periodic explanations sought, he said.

Critics have long branded ASEAN as ineffective, with non-interference in each other's affairs being its basic tenet. The charter's toothless enforcement mechanism was more of the same, they said. Myanmar only met its ASEAN counterparts nearly three weeks after the cyclone Nargis, the region's worst natural disaster since the tsunami of 2004, its critics pointed out.

As long as ASEAN stayed cohesive and effective, it should keep its place on the top of the regional arrangements, said Ong Keng Yong, director of the Institute of Policy Studies and former ASEAN secretary-general. ASEAN's ability to bring countries together was an asset, analysts said. The 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum, the region's premier security platform, meets today. Top diplomats from North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are also set to gather on the sidelines for an
informal session. - dpa

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