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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs