Chance for a star turn by Myanmar

Chance for a star turn by Myanmar


MYANMAR's turn as chair of ASEAN next year will be a huge morale boost for a nation adjusting to international norms.

Although questions about its readiness to be host might linger, the regional organisation has shown it approves of the post-junta reconstruction. The country was passed over once before as host. Endorsement this time is not to be taken as a rotational right, but one to deliver on to demonstrate good faith.

It is up to President Thein Sein and his government to prove that internal divisions over race and political enfranchisement will not derail the reconciliation, and that his commitment to ASEAN's goals of collaboration and regional security will not waver.

Among the ASEAN community, evolving Myanmar is most susceptible to influence by its neighbours China and India. The United States is not far behind as its interest in Myanmar's strategic value in the Indian Ocean vis-a-vis its contest with China is becoming evident. It is flattering to be courted, but Naypyidaw would want to be cognisant of its self-interest and that of ASEAN.

The grouping should have no part in the power play. The farce of the foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh which ended in disarray over the South China Sea territorial claims issue was a case of undue influence being exerted on the host. It violated ASEAN neutrality in the matter and is best avoided.

It benefits the grouping to pursue the goal of trade liberalisation by sticking to the 2015 launch target for the ASEAN Economic Community. Growth is its raison d'etre and all minds should be focused on it.

The ASEAN chair by convention steers policy discussions across a range of issues, seeking consensus or minimising differences. Well before the leaders' summit takes place towards the end of the year, together with meetings with security dialogue partners, the shape of the summit communique would have been clear.

Support from the ASEAN Secretariat and countries with the capacity to help move the process along should be embraced.

Too much has been made of Naypyidaw's limited scope to host multiple meetings of senior officials and ministers through the year, to culminate in the ASEAN and East Asia summits. It would be wise to concentrate on the process and not be distracted by an urge to lay on facilities to impress.

The administrative capital had staged without trouble the East Asia edition of the World Economic Forum in June, featuring a thousand attendees from 50 countries. In December comes the SEA Games, a far bigger test in logistics and event management. Myanmar may not be the tyro it is made out to be. ASEAN waits to be surprised - pleasantly, of course.

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