Myanmar steps into international role at ASEAN helm

Myanmar begins its first international political role in decades this week as host of Southeast Asia's regional bloc, with experts warning against "over-inflated" expectations as the group grapples with territorial disputes and ambitious economic integration plans.

The country will host foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for an informal meeting on Friday in the ancient capital Bagan -- the first major gathering of the group under Myanmar's debut year-long stewardship.

The long-isolated country has won international praise and the removal of most Western sanctions for wide-ranging reforms since the end of junta rule nearly three years ago, raising the promise of an investment boom.

The former pariah state has freed political prisoners, welcomed opposition parties into parliament and launched economic reforms.

Fresh from hosting the World Economic Forum on East Asia and Southeast Asian Games in the sprawling remote capital Naypyidaw last year, the country is confident that it can meet the diplomatic and logistical challenge of hosting the regional bloc, despite its creaking infrastructure.

"Myanmar is ready for the ASEAN chairmanship," said Than Htut, a senior official at the national planning ministry.

"ASEAN is a rising star in the world's politics and economy. We hope that our chairmanship will support that," he said, adding that businesses had donated a fleet of BMW cars and limousines to ferry delegates to meetings.

Sean Turnell, associate professor at Australia's Macquarie University, said that while Myanmar has previously been seen as a drain on the bloc, it now "promises to make a positive contribution".

"The biggest danger to Myanmar in being ASEAN chair might be over-inflated expectations," he told AFP, adding that the country's successful management of the Southeast Asian Games could raise unrealistic hopes of its ability to tackle strategically substantive challenges.

"The international community didn't expect much from (previous chairs) Laos, Cambodia etc, so these countries quite easily exceeded expectations. This might not be the case for Myanmar," he said.

In 2006, Myanmar was forced to renounce the ASEAN rotating presidency in the face of criticism of its rights record and the then-ruling junta's failure to shift to democracy.

Myanmar's eagerness to take the chair this year -- jumping in ahead of Laos -- is a signal the government wants to "step up the process of opening up to the region and outside world", said Southeast Asia expert Carl Thayer.

He said Myanmar would largely follow a pre-set agenda and would not be "out of its depth" at the helm.

President Thein Sein said in October the theme of Myanmar's chairmanship would be "moving forward in unity in a peaceful and prosperous community".

The regional grouping has a number of complex issues on the table, including territorial spats between Beijing and several ASEAN members -- particularly the Philippines and Vietnam -- over the South China Sea, as well as ambitious economic integration plans.

ASEAN, a region of 600 million people, wants to establish a common market and manufacturing base to better compete with China and India, but there are growing doubts about whether it will meet a 2015 target.

Myanmar has generated a flurry of economic interest since reforms began in 2011, with investors eyeing its pivotal strategic location, vast natural resources and a long-isolated population of some 60 million potential consumers.

"Down the track, Myanmar will greatly benefit from integration," said Turnell, adding that investors remain cautious despite a number of reforms.

Relations with neighbouring China, a longtime ally, are likely to put Myanmar in a delicate position when tackling the South China Sea.

Cambodia, an ally of Beijing, caused consternation in 2012 when it was ASEAN head by refusing to take China to task over its increasingly assertive claims to the potentially energy-rich waters.

"Myanmar diplomats privately say they will reflect the ASEAN consensus on the South China Sea while expecting strong pressure from China on this issue," Thayer told AFP, adding that crunch decisions were likely to fall outside the chairmanship.

Myanmar will also host the East Asia Summit in 2014, which brings ASEAN members together with the United States, China and Russia.

The chairmanship should be an "opportunity for the government to improve its human rights situation and show it is serious about making the transition from military to genuinely civilian rule" said Human Rights Watch researcher David Mathieson, adding it still had "some hard convincing to do".

Optimism over recent political prisoner releases has been tempered by the continuing arrest of activists and ongoing religious tension in the nation, where the military still holds a crucial position in parliament.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Nonviolent disciplining of kids pushed

    Child rights advocates called on senators to pass and strongly endorse a law that will institutionalize positive and nonviolent methods of disciplining children.The Child Rights Network (CRN), Plan International Philippines (PIP), Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLPCD), and Lihok Pilipinas Foundation led the call for the enactment of the Positive Discipline Bill.Several Quezon City Council members led by Majority Floor Leader Jesus Manuel Suntay, Victor Ferrer …

  • Method to their madness

    [caption id="attachment_256768" align="alignright" width="212"] Illustration by Rod Cañalita[/caption] EMMANUEL PORTUGAL Country Manager for the Philippines, VMware I look after the garden. I’d like to think that I have a green thumb—no plants have died so far! The ones I like now that I planted a few months ago is the Blue Iris. Like the town in the movie, my Blue Iris shows up in the morning and only appears for one day. …

  • JGFP Summer Tour on today

    The summer tour for local junior golfers kicks off with the holding of the ICTSI-JGFP Baguio Junior Open today and tomorrow at the treacherous Baguio Country Club course in Baguio.Sixty players aged 6 to 17 years old are entered in the 36-hole tourney serving as the opening leg of the summer circuit organized by the Junior Golf Foundation of the Philippines with the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. Foundation as main sponsor. ... …

  • PH now market ready to absorb infra bonds

    The Philippine market is now ready to absorb infrastructure bonds that will be issued by private companies amid a growing pipeline of infra-related projects under the government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program. President Benigno Aquino III last week said the government is still committed to spend more on the country’s infrastructure, with 16 PPP projects currently on the pipeline and nine that have already been awarded. Over the years, some of the country’s biggest infrastructure …

  • Filipinos are saving more – BSP survey

    More Filipinos have the extra cash to save for that proverbial rainy day, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Philippines (BSP). Based on a quarterly survey on consumer confidence, domestic households with savings have the means to increase family reserves and to bring up the amount to historical highs. The central bank said improved family income, a generally positive outlook on the economy, inflation and foreign exchange rates encouraged saving behavior during the first three months of 2015. …

  • AXA Philippines growing alongside its parent firm

    Philippine AXA Life Insurance Corp. is growing side by side with its parent firm, global insurance firm AXA, after posting significant growth in its total premium income amid an increasing market share in the country. A statement showed that in the Philippines, multi-billion firm AXA Group saw P18.35 billion in total premium income. The local entity of AXA, AXA Philippines is a joint venture between AXA Group and the Metrobank Group. In 2014, it saw an increase in market share to 11.6 …

  • End to traffic jam in sight? Japan to lend P4B to PHL for road projects

    The Japanese government will be providing some P4 billion to the Philippines for road projects aimed at decongesting monstrous jams in Metro Manila.Noriaki Niwa, chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the loan will cover major interchanges to address traffic congestion in Metro Manila, including flyovers, and road links.Among them are the interchanges on EDSA-Roosevelt/Congressional, EDSA-West/North, and C-5-Green Meadows and North/Mindanao Avenue. ... …

  • US won’t provide flexibility for countries interested in TPP

    Washington D.C.—The US government will not provide any flexibility for potential member countries, like the Philippines, in their bid to become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a senior official said. Economic and Business Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary William E. Craft, Jr., said all restrictions stated under the TPP trade deal will be maintained and have to be met by the current and future member countries. Earlier, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that the …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options