ASEAN: Unity is strength

Hla Maung



The 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings were held in Laos, Chair of ASEAN 2016 ,from 23 to 26 July and they were attended by the Secretary- General and ten members, the host’s invited foreign ministers from Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and a European country of Norway but also those from the ten Dialogue Partners of China, South Korea, Canada , Japan, Australia, India , The US, the European Union(EU), New Zealand and the Russian Federation. In addition, North Korea’s new foreign minister Ri Yong Ho made his overseas debut at a major security forum in Laos, at a time of high tensions over Pyongyang’s series of nuclear weapons tests. How he dealt his counterparts from nearly thirty countries while holding one-to-one talks on the sidelines were closely watched by North Korean watchers. After viewing the activities of the opening ceremony of the AMM and related meetings telecast by our national TVs a few days ago, I assume that all ASEAN meetings in Laos were highly successful because they could handle a lot of issues including the controversial and highly sensitive dispute in South China Sea.
As for our country, it seemed to be a golden opportunity for foreign minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to have person-to-person meetings with her counterparts from around the world ; she held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers from China, India, Russia, Australia, Brunei and both South and North Koreas. She discussed with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi over the Myitsone Dam project and minister Wang Yi promised not to do anything at the expense of the long-lasting paukphaw friendship. North Korea’s foreign minister requested her support for his country’ status  at the United Nations and invited her to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Australia and New Zealand  used to go to Europe and the United States in 1950s and 1960s if something serious happened in their countries; they even formed an alliance called ANZUS—Australia, New Zealand and the United States. As the economic  power has shifted from the West to the East and the two countries are geographically nearer to Asia, they willingly come and attend the ASEAN and related meetings now It is surprising that as many as thirty countries gathered in Laos for ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting(AMM) and related meetings. I wonder why  ASEAN attracted many countries from around the world. It is relatively small in terms of its combined population and land area; ASEAN covers a land area of 4.4 million square kilometers, 3% of the total land area of Earth; member countries have a combined population of approximately 625 million people ,still smaller than those of India and China. ASEAN is strategically located in the region ; it promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic integration among its members. With a motto of One vision, One identity, One community, its principal aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress and socio-cultural evolution among its members. It shares land borders with India, China, Bangladesh, East Timor and Papua New Guinea and maritime borders with  India, China and Australia. Even if ASEAN was formed with founding members of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand on August 8, 1967, Myanmar later joined the regional group on 23 July 1997 together with Laos, this year’ Chair. ASEAN achieved  greater cohesion in the mid-1970s following the balance of power in the Southeast Asia after the end of Vietnam War. The end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union towards the end of 1980s allowed ASEAN countries to exercise greater political independence in the region, and in 1990s ASEAN emerged as a leading voice  on regional trade and security issues.
The Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty was signed  in 1995 with the intention of turning the region into a nuclear free zone. The SEANWFZ commission met at the National Convention Centre  in Vietiane, Laos to view the plans  for the Treaty  being implemented from 2013 to 2017 the agreements on disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promotion of cooperation with Atomic Energy Agency. The ASEAN commission for Human Rights also reviewed its annual for 2016 and discussed  a framework for its action plans to be carried out from 2016 to 2020 in order of importance .
Why did ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting(AMM) and related meetings in Vietiane, Laos draw a large number of foreign ministers from around the world? There are definitely undeniable facts: the ten-member ASEAN is united and remains as a single entity; furthermore, it is strategically located in the region and shows progress towards political integration in the Southeast Asia.

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