Anxious to remain competitive against China and India, Southeast nations met in Philippines created a rules-based foundation for cooperation on economic, political, and terrorism policies along the lines of the European Union, but disagreed on Myanmar. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), home to about 570 million people, agreed to speed up the integration by five years to complete by 2015 to include systems making jointly developed policies binding on its members and mechanisms to monitor and enforce agreements. Demonstrating the resolve of the nations to cooperate, they agreed to provisions that can suspend or expel member nations who seriously breach the common charter.
Under the cloud of terrorism and threat of a bomb attack and protected by 13,000 troops guarding the streets, the states signed an important counter-terrorism agreement agreeing to clamp down on movement of arms, money, identify, and fighters between states (especially remote islands). They also agreed to improve information exchange and overhaul border controls. However, the leaders acknowledged that the causes of terrorism across member-states vary and urged respective nations to address the root-causes to effectively arrest terrorism. They also pledged to try reintegrating terrorist elements into society—Indonesia pardoned the Bali bomb plotter who killed scores of foreign tourists.
Other areas of cooperation includes improvement of wages and migrant workers, renewed commitment to fighting AIDS, and better cooperation and coordination on disaster prevention and relief management. Over the past couple of years, the area has been plagued by tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, forest fires, and pandemics.
Given such strong positions, the differences over Myanmar was most glaring. While larger ASEAN nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines rebuked Yangon, newer Indochina nations counseled staying on traditional “hear no evil, see no evil” and staying away from domestic issues. Notwithstanding the failure to agree on the inclusion of human rights in the charter and individual positions aside, it is highly unlikely that Myanmar may be allowed in the new block as the military regime has been accused of blocking democracy and free speech. The disagreement assumed significance as it comes on the heels of a failed bid by the US to impose a UN resolution calling on Myanmar to free its political prisoners—this resolution was vetoed by China and Russia.
The US-backed resolution called on Myanmar to end political repression and respect internationally recognized human rights. While the majority of the nations voted for the resolution, with Indonesia, Qatar, and Republic of Congo abstaining, Russia, China, and South Africa opposed the move. Seeing the loss to their position, Russia and China vetoed the resolution arguing that the UNSC was not the right forum to discuss human rights and that the small Southeast Asian nation does not threaten international peace. Yangon has been accused of carrying out arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, and executions, of waging war on minorities and building news cities while refugees flee the country, and for encouraging "narcotics and human trafficking,” and for ”ignoring communicable diseases."
ASEAN grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Over the weekend, China, South Korea, and India will meet the 10 ASEAN nations and Australia and New Zealand will meet them for the East Asia Summit.