Friday, July 17, 2009

ASEAN summit to tackle Burma stalemate

(DVB)–The intransigence of the Burmese government and the ongoing political crisis in the country will likely feature high on the agenda of the 42nd ASEAN summit beginning today in Thailand.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived on the island of Phuket, which will play host to the week-long annual summit.

The US ambassador to ASEAN, Scot Marciel, told reporters on Wednesday that he “expects” Burma to feature in talks this week.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc has found itself in a predicament in recent months as two of its member nations, North Korea and Burma, have each drawn international condemnation over their respective internal problems.

The two countries featured side by side in news headlines last month as cooperation over weapons technology appeared to heighten, despite North Korea being subject to tough UN arms embargo.

Such behaviour could galvanise an ASEAN community normally reluctant to interfere in domestic problems of member countries.

According to Debbie Stothard, coordinator of advocacy network ALTSEAN-Burma, the development of advanced weaponry, including long-range missiles, makes Burma “more of a traditional threat to the region”.

Similarly, the thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Burma into neighbouring countries have given Burma’s long-running internal conflict international ramifications.

Joining Clinton at the summit will be senior officials from China, Burma’s northern neighbour and strongest ally which has largely resisted any condemnation of the military government.

There is concern that China’s presence at the summit could outweigh any influence that the US can bring to discussions over tangible action to take on Burma.

But there have been suggestions lately that China’s confidence in its neighbour is waning following increasing unrest in the country which, if not tackled, says Stothard, could “hurt China very seriously”.

“Beijing is starting to understand that it is not in China’s national interests to allow the situation to deteriorate further in Burma,” she said.

“China needs stability in Burma and we can see that the Burmese government is creating more and more instability”.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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