ASEAN Round-up: Thailand AICHR on the political crisis

The fall-out of the Thai political crisis on Asean

By Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation

The ongoing political conflict on Bangkok's streets and the bloody clashes on April 10 have already rattled the nerves of Asean leaders as they ponder their grouping's future political landscape.

Last week, Vietnam was quick in wanting to issue a statement on behalf of Asean on the violence. On the same day, Cambodia immediately stepped in, calling for a special Asean summit to discuss the crisis in its eastern neighbour - unprecedented moves. Both plans were aborted.

Naturally, Thailand blocked the chair's statement. Bangkok felt it was not necessary as the Abhisit government is still in power and continues to handle the crisis in a transparent manner.

Most importantly, Thailand is an open society and the local and foreign media are free to report on the unfolding events on a daily basis. In responding to numerous enquiries, the government reiterated the non-use of forces during the confrontation.

Finally, Vietnam, on it own issued a short statement saying: "As a neighbouring country of Thailand, a member of Asean and concurrently the chair of Asean, Vietnam follows with great attention the current complicated developments in Thailand. Vietnam wants to see the parties concerned exercise restraint, refrain from violence, and peacefully settle issues through dialogue so as to bring about early stability for Thailand." That much was clear.

Within hours, Vietnam also responded to Phnom Penh's request with a short and crispy message: it is not practical to have such a summit. Putting the two diplomatic moves together, one wonders the reasons why Vietnam and Cambodia were so eager to highlight the Thai political uncertainty.

Throughout the political quagmire in Burma, since its admission in 1997, the two members have yet to play any pro-active role at all.

For instance, at the Hanoi summit, the Asean leaders discussed the situation inside Burma, especially the upcoming farcical election.

Quite a few countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, wanted a strong statement from the chair to express "concern" about the current conditions there. But Vietnam as the Asean chair refused to do so. Therefore, the final statement by the chair contained the lowest denominator of Asean's positions on Burma in a decade.

The statement "underscored" the importance of national reconciliation in Burma and the holding of a general election in a free, fair and inclusive manner.

The previous Asean chair's statement on Burma included the call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners (2003). During the bloodshed in September 2007, Asean expressed revulsion at the violence in Burma and the use of weapons in the crackdown against monks and students. At the Hanoi summit, the leaders told the Burmese that Asean was ready to share its electoral experience to help Burma; they could also send observers. But there was no response from Burma. Deep down, Asean would like to see Burma carry out a decent election that is acceptable internationally as it would be a boon to the grouping's credibility as a whole. For the past 13 years, Asean has been suffocating from the family's rogue member, who is not willing to listen or consider opinions and requests of peers.

Last October, Vietnam and Cambodia (along with Laos and Brunei) did not back Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's initiative calling for the pardon and release of Aung San Suu Kyi. After months of lobbying, the planned joint Asean appeal finally fumbled. Obviously as the Asean chair, Hanoi can take an initiative to reflect on any issue as it sees fit. It must be noted that most of the past Asean joint statements made were mainly on common crisis such as food security, financial crisis and recovery, pandemics, among others.

Such is the dilemma of the 43-year-old rule-based organisation. Political division remains as stark as ever. Southeast Asia, now under a single Asean roof, remains the world's only region that comprises all forms of political systems.

They range from absolute to constitutional monarchies, one-party dictatorship to one-party cronyism including various shades of socialism-cum-capitalism.

Whenever a consensus is needed, Asean members take an extraordinary amount of time to decide, especially on sensitive issues.

Amid all these inconsistencies within Asean, there is one bright spot - Indonesia's democracy, and its further consolidation.

The New York-based Freedom House picked Indonesia as the only free country in the region. On the day Vietnam rejected Cambodia's request for a summit on the Thai crisis, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was speaking in front of an international gathering of the Sixth Assembly of World Movement for Democracy with over 600 participants from 110 countries in a downtown hotel. It was a vote of confidence for the 12-year-old democracy, the world's third largest.

In his keynote speech, Yudhoyono declared proudly that democracy in Indonesia is irreversible and a daily fact of life.

The home-grown democracy in his country, the president reiterated, showed that democracy and economic development can go hand in hand as it was no longer a zero-sum game. With the third highest economic growth among G-20 countries, after China and India, Indonesia is confident that its democratic development is on the right track.

He pointed out that the desire to get rid of corruption, collusion and nepotism came wholly from within.

Thailand's democracy, despite its long 78-year history, is still not taking root and the Philippines continues to struggle to find its own democratic formula. The Filipino public are hoping that the next election would enable a respectable leader offering good governance to emerge. Just imagine the implications on the Asean political landscape if Thailand and the Philippines overcome their political instability and attain a certain degree of democratic maturity. Together with Indonesia, they would represent nearly 70 per cent of the Asean population of 595 million. It could be a new benchmark.

It is extremely significant that Jakarta is taking up the Asean chair next year, changing places with Brunei. First of all, Indonesia's chair automatically pre-empts Burma from resuming its skipped chair in 2005. The earlier fear was that after the scheduled election and a new government in Burma this year, the regime might request Asean to return its chair. For 2012, Cambodia has already reaffirmed that it would surely stick to the original schedule as the general election is slated for 2013. Burma, under the name of Myanmar, will take up the chair in 2015 when Asean is supposed to become one community.

Finally, this would allow the grouping's biggest member to pursue its broad global agenda as the Asean chair. It remains to be seen how Indonesia can balance its global and regional roles.

Jakarta has told Asean that as a member of G-20 it would not be able to speak for Asean, but it can convey the Asean input. Yudhoyono's second five-year term would witness Indonesia's enthusiasm on issues pertaining to democracy, international peace-keeping and building, climate change, responsibility to protect and the anti-terrorism campaign. If Jakarta succeeds, the prestige of Asean will be further augmented worldwide


Special Report: Thai representative in AICHR calls for joint development of democratic culture

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) has filed an open letter to both the Thai government and the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) to resume talks and end the conflict through peaceful means.

AICHR Chairperson, Dr Sriprapha Petcharamesree, stated that both the government and the UDD should be held accountable for the losses from the 10 Apr bloodshed and must resume talks to end the conflict as encouraged by many sectors in the society.

However, Dr Sriprapha said both sides on the other hand have become harsher in their stances and tend to end the problem via violent measures, which are contradictory to the core of democracy and peaceful co-existence, and deemed threats to the state and its people alike.

In addition, the chairperson criticized the government for replaying video clips featuring the 10 Apr bloodshed on television before the investigation process is completed. She also blamed UDD core leaders for making provocative political speeches instigating violence or threatening lives of others.

Dr Sriprapha hence issued an open letter on behalf of the Thai representatives in the AICHR suggesting steps to be taken by both the Thai government and the UDD as follows.

First, the government should stop using state media to disseminate news or information unverified by an independent and neutral committee. The government is also asked to neither censor programs nor intervene in the media, to allow people to use their own judgment.

Second, UDD core leaders are pleaded to stop delivering provocative speeches inciting hatred in the society. The letter said peaceful rallies mean not only gathering without weapons but also refraining from inciting hatred which could finally lead to use of violence against others.

Third, the government is requested to revoke both the Internal Security Act and the State of Emergency declaration to reduce chances of human rights violation by the authorities and relieve prevailing tension, which is conducive to the desirable negotiations.

Fourth, both the government and the UDD are suggested to appoint their respective representatives to jointly work on the direction and framework of negotiations. The ongoing confrontation between both sides is obviously contradicting their own demands for peace and democracy.

Fifth, the AICHR will appoint a regional and independent fact-finding team to investigate human rights violations in the crowd dispersal operation of the government to find the persons, or groups of persons, to be held responsible for all the damages and rehabilitation to be carried out.

Dr Sriprapha said the government is required to sponsor all expenses to be incurred from the operation. The investigation will show the openness and sincerity of the government in finding the truth. She stressed that the investigation by the AICHR could be a good example for other countries in the region that the human rights issue is not an internal affair but is the prime responsibility for everyone.

Dr Sriprapha stressed that the raison d'รชtre or reason for being of a state is to protect its people and promote human rights protection while citizens must respect rights of each other. She said fighting for democracy now is made only for particular persons or institutions and hence is shameful.

The chairperson concluded that people should help establish the culture of democracy instead of fighting against each other to achieve democracy.


Ability to address internal problems positive for ASEAN's cooperation

The Association of Southeast Asia Nation's ability to address its internal problems will have positive impact for the bloc's cooperation, officials said in Jakarta recently.

Teuku Faizasyah, the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson said that economic integration in ASEAN is growing strongly, creating a stronger interdependence which in turn preventing conflict.

Faizasyah said that stronger cooperation will create a connectivity that will support economic progress, promoting the achievement of ASEAN Community by 2015.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN's Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan highlighted ASEAN Connectivity as an important dimension of ASEAN economic integration, which could contribute to the Comprehensive Asia Development Plan (CADP).

In his statement, Surin stressed that better connectivity in ASEAN and beyond will increase its competitiveness and enhance the attractiveness of the bloc, not only increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) destination but also encouraging better integration of production and innovation networks in the region.

Surin cited the crucial role of public-private partnership in mobilizing resources to implement the ASEAN Connectivity initiative and the CADP.

To achieve the ASEAN Community, ASEAN members must show their seriousness, he said.

ASEAN nations have three pillars consisting of ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community that should be upheld in realizing the community.

"However, it seems that economic pillar move faster than others," he said.

Faizasyah said that Indonesia commits to make the other three pillars to go at the same speed as economy.

"We must put combat against terrorism and transnational crime as our priorities too," he said.

> He added that ASEAN countries are optimistic in achieving the ASEAN Community.

"We already have infrastructures. We have FTAs since 1999s. Governments only provide direction and guidelines for the goal," he said.

However, ASEAN must realize other steps in promoting the goal.

Surin underscored the importance for ASEAN to implement ASEAN transport and cross border agreements expeditiously, which involve translating these regional commitments into domestic laws and regulations if ASEAN economies were to efficiently move products to their final markets.

The CADP is an initiative intended to provide a coherent master plan of economic infrastructure and industrial placement in East Asia, including ASEAN, to deepen regional integration, stimulate economic growth and narrowing the development gap.

The master plan is expected to be considered by the East Asia Summit in October 2010.


Call to resolve internal Asean-China FTA woes

PETALING JAYA: There are still challenges and difficulties that need to be resolved between the member countries of the Asean-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) to tap the benefits of the coalition, says Bank of China (M) Bhd chief executive officer Zheng Jingbo.

He said since the setting up of ACFTA, competition between member countries and cross-border investment opportunities had increased. To avoid vicious competition, investing activities must be conducted in an orderly manner.

โ€œOverlapping of businesses or industries would also exist as China and Asean are still considered developing countries,โ€ he said in his public lecture on โ€œChina-Asean Free Trade Area: Dancing With Opportunities and Challengesโ€, which was organised by Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman yesterday.

Zheng Jingbo ... โ€˜China and Asean are still considered developing countriesโ€™

He also said the uncertainties or internal dispute among some of the Asean countries, if not addressed properly, would affect the business activities in the ACFTA.

Zheng, who is also chairman of China Enterprises Association in Malaysia, said the effectiveness of ACFTA would help internationalise the yuan and promote it to be a regional currency.

โ€œThe conditions for yuan to be international have been set, given the accelerated growth of the Chinese economy and its economic strength as well as the improved international credibility and stability of the currency,โ€ he said.

ACFTA, which came into effect on Jan 1, is the worldโ€™s biggest trade area by population with a consumer market of 1.9 billion.

On the poor interest in Chinese companies listed on Bursa Malaysia, Zheng said it was due to lack of understanding and information among local investors.

โ€œInvestors have to understand the businesses in order to realise the potential of particular companies,โ€ he said.

For Chinese companies that were interested to invest in Malaysia and vice versa, he said understanding the business nature and the policies of the Government were crucial before making business decisions and it was important to reduce the investment risk.


Leaders determined to build stronger ASEAN

The 16 th ASEAN Summit has shown the determination to boost activities on the important transitional time of 2010, contributing to creating a new impulse for stronger and more effective development of ASEAN to approach to a goal of building the ASEAN Community, affirmed Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem.

The 16 th ASEAN Summit

Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Khiem made the affirmation while answering domestic pressโ€™ questions on the freshly-ended 16 th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi .

The 16 th ASEAN Summit was a success and achieved important results, Khiem said.

Firstly, it is the blocโ€™s strong determination to effectively implement the roadmap to build the ASEAN Community and bring the ASEAN Charter into reality on the right pace.

Secondly, the blocโ€™s proposal commitments and practical activities to enhance cooperation in facing emerging challenges.

Thirdly, the blocโ€™s determination to maintain and enhance ASEANโ€™s central role in the region.

Fourthly, the consensus and agreement among ASEAN leaders on the blocโ€™s priority orientations like Vietnam has proposed under the theme โ€œTowards the ASEAN Community: from Vision to Actionโ€.

On Vietnam โ€™s contributions on its capacity of Chair of ASEAN, Deputy PM Khiem said that Vietnam has actively consulted, exchanged and reached agreement with other ASEAN member countries on the priority focus as well as the action programme for ASEAN cooperation in 2010.

The contents of the agenda and Vietnam โ€™s documents presented at this Summit were built in conformity with the blocโ€™s top priorities, said the deputy PM, adding that Vietnam โ€™s proposals have contributed to promoting the building of enforceable culture inside the bloc with concrete and practical measures.

The Summit โ€™s approval of ASEAN leadersโ€™ statements on ASEAN Leadersโ€™ Statement on Sustained Recovery and Development and Joint Response to Climate Change has reflected ASEANโ€™s high support to Vietnam โ€™s initiatives, contributing to accelerating joint cooperation in facing challenges.

According to Vietnamโ€™s proposals, ASEAN agreed to organise the first plenary session of ASEAN leaders with the participation of ministers and senior officials who are in charge of the ASEAN Communityโ€™s pillars with the aim of discussing orientations for accelerating the implementation of the roadmap to built the ASEAN Community through which confirm the strong determination to promote the associationโ€™s efforts to implement the ASEAN Community building in 2015 as planned.

Vietnam has also discussed and agreed with other ASEAN members and successfully hosted the first official meeting of ASEAN leaders and representatives of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA).

As the host country, Vietnam has exerted its utmost in all fields in the hosting from contents, programmes, protocol, logistics and reception for the Summit โ€™s smooth running and safety in accordance with ASEANโ€™s rituals and normal practice.

Through the first Summit in the year Vietnam is Chair of ASEAN, a number of ASEAN friends expressed their fine impressions on a renovated Vietnam and dynamic and responsible Chair of ASEAN in joining the bloc to promote activities to bring the ASEAN ship to the completion of building the Community, concluded the deputy PM.


ADB, ASEAN+3 establish joint credit facility

Aditya Suharmoko, The Jakarta Post

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and ASEAN+3 have established a joint credit guarantee facility to support local currency denominated bonds issued by companies in the region.

ADB's board of directors approved the establishment of the Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility (CGIF), to begin in 2011, as a trust fund with a capital contribution of US$130 million, it said in a statement Tuesday.

ASEAN+3 member governments will provide a combined $570 million to create the $700 million facility.

ASEAN -- Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- will contribute a combined $70 million.

China is contributing $200 million to the facility, Japan $200 million and South Korea $100 million. Ownership rights will be proportionate to capital contributions.

"The Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility will make it possible for corporations to issue bonds in their domestic markets and in neighboring markets and across ASEAN+3.

"Channeling regional savings into regional investments will support economic growth, creating jobs and alleviating poverty," said Noy Siackhachanh, advisor with ADB's Office of Regional Economic Integration.


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