News / Asia

ASEAN Hoping for Removal of Burma Sanctions

 ASEAN countries' foreign ministers pose during a photo session at the 45th Association of Foreign Ministers' Plus Three Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 10, 2012. .
ASEAN countries' foreign ministers pose during a photo session at the 45th Association of Foreign Ministers' Plus Three Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 10, 2012. .
Irwin Loy
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – As senior ministers in Southeast Asia meet for a high-level summit in Cambodia this week, some observers are already looking ahead to 2014. That is when Burma, also known as Myanmar, will be taking its place as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In an interview with VOA, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the regional bloc deserves credit for encouraging reforms in Burma. He also expressed frustration that international sanctions have not been removed altogether.

International sanctions

When ASEAN leaders gathered in Phnom Penh in early April, the questions surrounding Burma focused on when, rather than if, international sanctions would be lifted. Burma had just staged key by-elections, during which opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi ​emerged victorious. The feeling from ASEAN officials was that Burma, should be rewarded.

The international community responded. The United States, Australia, the European Union all announced a relaxation of their sanctions. But, for ASEAN, the goal is to have sanctions completely removed.



Although there has been little public discussion about Burma during ministers’ meetings this week, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan says the region’s leaders are still paying attention.

“I think the U.S. and the EU are adopting two separate strategies," said Surin. "The EU is suspending sanctions, meaning anything can go, but it can be imposed again. The U.S. is relaxing it step by step, so two strategies. We appreciate that. But we hope that the pace will be quick and that evolution inside Myanmar will warrant a serious reconsideration of the measures put in place for the sanctions.”

ASEAN Member Nations
ASEAN Member Nations


Friction

Surin rejects suggestions that the international community’s reluctance to completely remove sanctions, is causing friction with ASEAN.

“I call it a sense of frustration, that things are not moving faster. But as I say, in the end, we have to live with it," said Surin. "It's the sovereign right of those dialogue partners, those major countries and groupings, to decide. But what we can do is we can demonstrate to them, as far we are concerned, things are moving in the right direction. We are confident that it's not going to be reversed. The government of Myanmar, the people of Myanmar, deserve a certain degree of relaxation. The process should move fast.”

However, some observers have a more blunt assessment.

“ASEAN wants the sanctions against Burma removed, because it discriminates against one of its members," said Carlyle Thayer, a specialist on ASEAN affairs at the University of New South Wales. "They see the reforms as going positively. The European Union, the United States and Australia, Norway, which have lifted or suspended their sanctions but not ended them, still want to keep them in place so if there's any backsliding, they can be re-imposed.”

Complexity

Thayer says one problem is that ending sanctions is much more complicated than imposing them in the first place.

“Sanctions are so complex because you have to have unanimity in the EU, and in the United States you have congressionally imposed sanctions and U.S. presidential executive orders," said Thayer. "So in both areas it's a huge maze. It’s easier to suspend, than it is to get complete unanimity.”

For now though, Surin says he is looking ahead to 2014, when Burma will take the ASEAN chair.

“It was our encouragement, that if you want to chair ASEAN, which is both the responsibility and the prestige and the honor, you will have to do a lot of things, and ASEAN I think has been instrumental," said Surin. "Now we are helping them. We are opening up opportunities for them. They come and observe meetings like this, meetings like in Indonesia. Working their way into 2014.”

Although ASEAN has a large stake in ensuring Burma’s chairmanship is as trouble-free as possible, Burma’s government, too, stands to benefit domestically from becoming chair. General elections are planned for just a year later, in 2015.

Chairmanship

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a political analyst at Kyoto University, says, if Burma is serious about staging truly free and fair elections this time around, chairing ASEAN could go a long way to boosting the government’s image, within its own borders.

“I think 2014 is such a crucial year for both Burma and ASEAN. 2014, it would be just only one year before the general election in Burma," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun. "The fact that the Burmese leadership want the ASEAN chairmanship so much is because this could legitimize the regime so as to be able to win the election in 2015. People might not think it's important but it's very important in the context of Burmese politics. To be able to open up the country, to bring a lot of potential ASEAN investors including the ASEAN dialogue partners, this would be a time to showcase Burma. So it would be very much important for Burma.”

Pavin says, by the same token, ASEAN will be just as eager to ensure that Burma’s chairmanship runs smoothly. And, that may mean the priorities for other issues, like human rights, may fall by the wayside.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid