Editorial – ASEAN Bites?

Finally the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have given themselves – or are set to, at least – the clout they need in this important part of the world.

At their weekend annual summit in Cebu, the Philippines, the heads of state for once showed their regional grouping could become more than the irrelevant talking shop many commentators have described it as in recent years.

Not before time did the leaders draw up an ASEAN charter, which is due to be signed later this year and sets out a rules-type system for member states akin to those used by the European Union. Those who break the rules – such as Myanmar, for instance – would be subject to punishment.

This is a long way from the tread-on-toesteps attitude of the block’s 39-year history, in which it refused to criticize other members for clear rights and other violations, citing the passé reasoning of “non-interference” in others’ domestic affairs.

For only with constructive analysis, suggestions and reasoning can the entire grouping that represents 570 million people rise as a power even somewhat akin to the EU and United States.

Nowhere more does ASEAN need a firmer, unified, forceful voice than on Myanmar, whose junta continue to hold pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest after she rightfully was voted the nation’s leader in 1990 elections, effrontery that casts a sour pall over ASEAN itself for allowing this kind of head-in-sand, bullying tactic.

That Suu Kyi remains holed up in her Yangon house is nothing short of a disgrace, and a mockery of the very democratic ideals neighboring countries hold so dear.

“Burma’s government is not only one of the world’s most repressive; it’s also a rare case of a dictatorship that can’t even pretend to legitimacy,” said The Washington Post in an editorial on Monday, as the US presses the United Nations Security Council to censure Myanmar over human rights violations.

It is past time for ASEAN, therefore, to take a solid bite out of the ills that are besetting it; otherwise it really will end up, derided, on the floor of illegitimacy.

Filed under: Opinion

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