Myanmar pledges ‘active participation’ as it assumes ASEAN chair

Myanmar pledges ‘active participation’ as it assumes ASEAN chair
(From left) Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein at the ASEAN-India Summit yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Published: 4:03 AM, October 11, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, October 12, 2013

Bandar Seri Begawan — The 23rd ASEAN Summit drew to a close yesterday in Brunei with the Chairman’s gavel passed to Myanmar for the first time, and its President Thein Sein pledging to “participate actively as a responsible member” and to move the regional grouping further along its community roadmap.

Critics have said Myanmar has not gone far enough in human rights reforms — with sectarian violence against Muslims in its Rakhine state — but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, ASEAN’s current Chairman, expressed confidence that the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) could continue its close cooperation and progress under Myanmar next year.

Speaking in English at the handover ceremony in Brunei’s International Convention Centre, Mr Thein Sein called the chairmanship a “great honour”, and said his country aimed to “satisfactorily” perform its duties.

“At a time when our citizens and the entire world are watching closely … it is extremely crucial for us to show unity in fulfilling our common objectives,” he said.

“Our unity and solidarity have endured the test of time, and we must continue to maintain and preserve this noble tradition.”

Myanmar opted to forego the ASEAN chairmanship in 2006, when its then-ruling military junta was under pressure to carry out democratic reforms. Mr Thein Sein was elected President in 2011.

The theme chosen for ASEAN next year is “Moving forward in unity towards a peaceful and prosperous community”, and Myanmar aims to “add value to promote a people-centred ASEAN”, said Mr Thein Sein .

Speaking to the media after the handover ceremony, Sultan Bolkiah did not address a question on how he viewed Myanmar’s new role, but said he was confident ASEAN was on its way to achieving its 2015 community goals.

Various world leaders yesterday spoke of the need for peace and stability, as well as of ASEAN’s need to tackle climate change and for food and energy security at the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Plus Three Summit, ASEAN-India Summit and ASEAN-United Nations Summit.

The issue of the South China Sea – where a third of global shipping passes through, but the subject of territorial claims by China, Taiwan and four South-east Asian countries – again cropped up.

At the East Asia Summit – featuring leaders from ASEAN, the United States, Russia, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated that his country and ASEAN have agreed to peacefully resolve the disputes through consultations and negotiations. “Countries that are not parties to the disputes should not get involved,” he said.

Several countries, including Singapore and Brunei, also signed Memoranda of Understanding with India on Nalanda University, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this would boost people-to-people ties between ASEAN and India. Singapore is also helping to raise funds for the university’s library.