Asean-US showdown over Myanmar not likely

ASEAN has dismissed suggestions that it is heading for a showdown with the United States over admitting Myanmar next month to the seven-nation grouping.

Asean Secretary-General Datuk Ajit Singh told a news conference yesterday that both Asean and the US wanted the same thing – positive developments in Myanmar and regional stability – but differed on how to achieve it.

“The difference is that Washington wants to achieve these goals through enforcing sanctions,” he said in response to a question. “Asean does not believe in that. We believe in the policy of constructive engagement.”

The US has led the way in putting pressure on Asean to delay admitting Myanmar over its human-rights record. Asean member states, however, have stressed that a longstanding policy of engaging Myanmar would reap better results.

Datuk Ajit Singh said that Asean would have “very frank, very open and very engaging discussions” with Myanmar once it joined the group.

“Myanmar is now in the same compound with the rest of Asean which makes it easier for us to talk to them,” he said.

He noted that Myanmar together with Cambodia and Laos were “working very hard” to fulfil the obligations of becoming Asean members.

Asean had agreed last Saturday to admit the three countries into the grouping.

He said he had submitted a report to Asean foreign ministers on the state of readiness of the three countries to join the grouping, which said the three would:

* Accede to the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, which established the grouping, and to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
* Contribute US$1 million (S$1.4 million) to the Asean fund.
* Assume responsibility for chairing Asean meetings.
* Establish diplomatic missions in all other Asean countries.
* Train government officials in the use of the English language.

At the briefing, Datuk Ajit Singh also announced that Asean economic ministers would meet in Jakarta on June 14 to discuss the group’s economic vision for the next century.

He said older Asean member states, on their part, would help Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to standardise customs and immigration rules and harmonise laws on legal, taxation and tariff systems to integrate them into the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta).

“This work is basic if the three countries want to implement Afta as quickly as possible,” he said.

To create Afta, Asean countries had agreed to eliminate tariffs altogether by 2003.

He noted that Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar had already drawn a draft product list for the Common Effective Preferential Tariff scheme – a requirement under Afta in which Asean countries are given uniform preferential treatment in intra-Asean trade.

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