Saturday, May 10, 2014

Brunei Sultan HM arrives in Myanmar today for ASEAN Summit (May 10, 2014)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

HIS Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar's new capital, Naypyitaw, today for the 24th ASEAN summit.

The meeting marks a watershed moment in Myanmar's political history as the one-time pariah takes on the chairmanship of the 10-member bloc for the first time in 17 years.

During the summit, the leaders are expected to adopt the Nay Pyi Taw Declaration on the realisation of the ASEAN Community by 2015, and terms of reference of the ASEAN Secretary-General as the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator.

His Majesty will also attend a series of sideline meetings with representatives of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), civil society organisations, ASEAN youth, and the 10th Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

The declaration is likely to deflect some attention away from other more thorny issues, including recent flare-ups in the South China Sea and violence against Muslims in Myanmar.

This week, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels collided in the disputed waters, causing tensions to flare-up once again. The Philippines also arrested a group of Chinese fisherman in an area claimed by both countries.

ASEAN members — Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — all have overlapping territorial claims with China in the sea, which is thought to be rich in natural resources.

Aung Linn, director-general of ASEAN at Myanmar's foreign ministry, said Vietnam raised the issue during a preparatory meeting and will table the matter for discussion at the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting today.

“As chairman, Myanmar will certainly hear all the input raised by each member country. We'll work together to figure out how to address the issue but we must understand ASEAN works by consensus and we must approach it the ASEAN way,” he told reporters in Naypyitaw yesterday.

Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said the recent incidents reinforced the need for a swift conclusion to the long-awaited code of conduct (COC), which would govern behaviour by claimants in the sea.

“We would encourage ASEAN efforts to accelerate discussion of the COC. If allowed to occur, similar incidents such as these will disrupt the process of formulating the COC,” he said.

“Discussion in the last meeting between senior officials of ASEAN and China have already taken place and there are encouraging developments.”

Myanmar has come a long way in the three years since President Thein Sein took office in March 2011. His political reforms led to the lifting of sanctions by the West and Myanmar’s reacceptance in the international arena.

Although the ASEAN chairmanship is supposedly rotated alphabetically on an annual basis, Myanmar used to be passed over consistently.

However, the country's democratic reforms threaten to be overshadowed by a growing humanitarian crisis among the ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine has left up to 200 dead and 140,000 displaced, most of them Muslims. The government expelled international aid agencies from Rakhine in March for showing “bias” towards the Rohingya, which the UN says are deprived of citizenship and the most basic liberties — all charges which Myanmar denies.

Myanmar's ambassador to Brunei, Yin Yin Myint, said it regards the issue as an “internal affair”, invoking the ASEAN principle of non-interference in each other's domestic affairs.

“There are (ASEAN) issues which have more far-reaching implications than the so-called 'Rohingya issue'... Myanmar strongly believes that 'Rohingya' refers to a political movement. There is no such ethnic group as Rohingya in the history of Myanmar and South Asia.”

However, Myanmar's internal problems have taken on a regional dimension after many Rohingya fled as refugees to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Despite the objections of the government, it is likely the issue will be raised, at least informally, during the ASEAN leaders' meeting on Sunday.

The Brunei Times

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