Myanmar in Asem : No formal Asean position yet

ASEAN, anticipating that Myanmar could be barred from a summit of Asian and European nations next April, has discussed the issue for some months and mulled over options, including a boycott, Philippine Foreign Affairs Under-secretary Rodolfo Severino said yesterday.

But Asean has yet to adopt a formal position and its foreign ministers could discuss the matter in New York this month when they attend the United Nations general assembly meeting, he said.

Mr Severino, who takes over as Asean secretary-general in January, was commenting on remarks by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad that Asean could boycott the second Asia-Europe meeting (Asem II) in London next April if Myanmar was barred.

Dr Mahathir, who was, in turn, reacting to a statement by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, warned that discrimination against Myanmar amounted to “discrimination against Asean”.

“You may find other countries in Asean also deciding not to attend,” the New Straits Times yesterday quoted him saying.

Mr Cook said in Singapore on Monday that Myanmar would not be allowed to attend if its military leaders did not take steps to improve its human-rights record and curb its drug trade.

He also noted that sanctions against the ruling junta by the European Union, which denies visas to ministers and officials, would make it impossible for them to attend.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Singapore contacted yesterday said the ministry’s understanding was that the question of Myanmar’s attendance “does not arise”.

“There has been no decision taken on new membership for Asem II, which has to be decided by consensus. Until a decision is taken, the membership of Asem II in London will be the same as that of Asem I in Bangkok.”

Asem now links Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China and South Korea with the 15-member EU. The first meeting last year was in Thailand.

Mr Severino said Manila felt that all countries could gain from Asem membership.

The comment echoed those made in Brussels by a spokesman for the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – who yesterday dismissed Dr Mahathir’s Asean boycott threat.

Asean admitted Myanmar as a member in July along with Laos.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry would study Dr Mahathir’s comments “before making any statement”, a spokesman said. But a senior official said as far as Jakarta was concerned, Asem comprised “individual countries and must not be seen as being dichotomised by groupings”.

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