Asean ends forum highlighted by Burma's re-emergence; PM backs US non-proliferation drive, TPP trade pact
The 19th Asean Summit and related events ended yesterday evening, with the highlights including Burma’s success in winning chairmanship for the 2014 summit, the unsolved South China Sea territorial conflict, and the US’ high-profile presence as a new member of the East Asia Summit.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the summit host, chaired the closing ceremony with the presence of other leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre.
There was also the handover ceremony of Asean chairmanship to Cambodia, which is to host the 20th summit next year on the theme of “Asean: One community, one destiny”.
Yudhoyono, at the final press conference after the summit’s completion, allayed concern Asean’s centrality would be affected with the participation of global powers like the US and Russia in the EAS, which now has 18 members including regional powers like China, Japan, and Australia.
“I can assure you that Asean will always play a central role. We establish the agenda, we establish the direction,” he said. “I do not see any reduced role of Asean.”
The Indonesian leader also said every country has its own national interest. “But when the countries are united, there’s common interest, mutual interest,” he added.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan was one who made concern about reduced centrality.
In a separate press briefing in Bali, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Burma to show its sincerity now in implementing political reforms -- a condition for becoming Asean chair in 2014.
Ban said the United Nations welcomed Asean’s decision to grant the grouping’s chairmanship to Burma in 2014.
Meanwhile, Thailand will join the US sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told US President Barack Obama in Bali yesterday.
The country is also keen on joining the US-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new free trade agreement, which currently has 9 member countries, according to foreign minister Surapong Towichukchaikul.
Regarding the PSI, Prime Minister Yingluck was quoted as saying: “We will soon discuss this matter in the Cabinet before formally announcing our support for PSI.
Yingluck yesterday held a meeting with the US president for 30 minutes on the sidelines of the Asean summit.
Obama told Yingluck he was confident in her government and fully supported Thailand as the country has returned to full democracy.
Yingluck kicked off the high-profile meeting with the US President with the issue of US concern about weapons of mass destruction, as it was anticipated Obama would welcome the news. Washington has tried to convince Thailand to join the PSI for some time.
Launched by George W Bush’s administration in 2003, the PSI is now endorsed by 98 nations around the world although some countries in Asia, such as India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia, have expressed opposition.
Previous Thai governments were reluctant to join the initiative, as security agencies feared legal consequences from its implementation, Surapong said.
Thai security officials raised concern that they may face lawsuits if a search for weapons of mass destruction posed damage to the private sector, he said.
Foreign Minister Surapong, who also attended the meeting with the US president, said he called a meeting to review Thailand’s position on the PSI on November 14 and found that such worries were not serious and opera?tional officials could avoid legal difficulties. Weapons of mass destruction were more dangerous than concerns about lawsuits that officials might face, he said. If Cabinet approved the move, Thailand would join, he said.
Yingluck also told the US President that Thailand would like to join the Washington-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), Surapong said.
The US and eight other countries are in the multilateral free-trade agreement, including four Asean states – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
But Surapong said Thailand may need a bit longer to study the free-trade scheme, as it has many conditions and details that might affect domestic industries and the Thai economy.
While studying the TPP, Thailand would enhance cooperation in trade and investment between the two countries, he said. There would be efforts toward closer relations between Thai and American business communities, he said.
Some American companies were affected by the flood disaster in Thailand, but Yingluck told Obama her government would take care of them and help them to recover from the damage, Surapong said.
Beside bilateral affairs, Yingluck and Obama discussed political developments in neighbouring Burma, as the US wants to see Thailand played the role of a coordinator to help Burma carry out reforms towards democracy and national reconciliation.
Thailand was ready to do the job and ensured the US that the country would continue providing shelter for refugees from Burma on a humanitarian basis and would prepare them to be ready if they wanted to return to their homeland some day, Surapong said.