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Southeast Asian Nations Propose Measures to Curb Currency Speculation


Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations propose strengthening an initiative to protect the region's currencies. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has more from Manila where the top ASEAN diplomats are meeting with officials from key partner nations.

As Asian economies boom, billions of dollars of foreign investment are flowing into the region.

That money is creating economic growth, but it also presents risks, because it can easily be moved away from the region if investors become worried. In meetings Tuesday with the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea, the senior diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations proposed expanding an initiative to protect their currencies and prevent financial meltdowns.

Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram says countries that suffered during the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s are still vulnerable to financial collapse.

"We have this huge influx of foreign international capital and it's causing quite a bit of havoc," said Nitya. "It's causing instability, it's causing loss of confidence, it's causing great volatility in terms of our currencies."

Nitya says ASEAN wants to expand on the Chiang Mai Initiative, which was created at a meeting in 2000 in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

"What we did was to propose that we expand the Chiang Mai Monetary Initiative to internationalize it, to multi-lateralize it if you can bring about a stable, financial environment, then that will create a lot of confidence for people in trade, investment, and future investment as well." said Nitya.

The Chiang Mai Initiative established a regional financing facility for ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, and South Korea to defend their currencies against an attack.

Diplomats at Tuesday's meetings also discussed a proposal for an East Asian trade bloc, and efforts to improve political, economic, and security cooperation in the region.

The issue of Burma arose again, with ASEAN members acknowledging the concerns of several Western countries over Rangoon's human rights record. But ASEAN diplomats said they thought it better to engage with Burma than to isolate it.

The diplomats Tuesday also called on militants in Afghanistan to free 21 South Korean aid workers they hold hostage. Two of the workers have been killed by their Taleban kidnappers.

On Wednesday, the ASEAN foreign ministers meet with officials from the U.S., Australia, European Union and other governments.

The following day, the ASEAN Regional Forum gathers all of the diplomats for an annual regional discussion of security and other issues.